A page of the Urban Wildness website, http://www.urbanwildness.com


Architects call it, "a sense of place" 1, the feeling you get from your surroundings -- not anything rational, more something sensed, like the difference between the center of Times Square and the summit of Mount Conness.

Animals feel it. Humans felt it in the past -- then travel-inventions like the car and plane and global mobility distracted us and blurred and dimmed the feeling a bit -- now the Internet's enabling us to "stay home", and to travel "just for fun", bring us back to our sense of place.

The particular place involved here is where San Francisco's urban wildlife live, in a tiny corner of what Gary Snyder calls Turtle Island 2: best seen, and appreciated, in layers --


Layer 1 the Earth, down deep
Layer 2 the rocks
Layer 3 the land
Layer 4 the plants
Layer 5 the animals
Layer 6 the humans
Layer 7 the waters
Layer 8 the weather
Layer 9 the stars, maybe
Politics resources: local, state, federal,
& now even more...
Good Reads -- a few particularly-good things to read,
on "Urban Wildness & Place", generally...




San Francisco on Turtle Island,
the layers of a "place"


Layer 1 -- the Earth, down deep

Before and beneath the animals and the plants and the land and the rocks, in San Francisco, we had the earthquakes -- and we have them still, they formed us and that process continues -- they condition all of our perceptions of our "place" -- they deprive and they provide, to the rocks and land and plants and animals inhabiting the very thin layers up above, where humans among all the others reside.

San Francisco is all about its earthquakes...

Earthquakes & volcanos & plate tectonics = California.



Layer 2 -- the rocks

Our earthquakes, and the immense forces which caused them, and which still keep causing them, gave us our rocks -- and our rocks provide clues to how fluid and constantly-changing our particular "place" is --

"Chert" rock in Glen Canyon Park, San Francisco.

-- every layer, in the many-layered rocks shown above, once long ago was the bottom of a separate sea, laid on in layers as different seas came and went -- then, as North America and the Pacific Ocean coasted together, and collided, these layered "chert" rocks were heated and softened and squashed in-between, and forced upward, high into the water and eventually out into the air, where gradually they cooled -- they can be seen now at the tops of the region's mountains, and all along the Pacific Coast, they "are" the mountains and that Coast -- their swirling motions can be brilliantly red in color, and dramatic, like the swirling fudge frosting on a giant chocolate "layer" cake, which is sort of what they are...


  • Topics



  • Local places, to visit

    • Radiolarian (?) chert -- may be found locally in Glen Park, above, and even more spectacularly along the road up to Hawk Hill.


    • Serpentinite -- state stone of California, greenstone, may be found in the Presidio, at the New Mint, and in McLaren Park, running in a long band which cuts diagonally through San Francisco, following the path of the earthquake faults.


    • Fort Funston Beach -- offers a dramatic geological example of what a continental collide can do -- the land having been literally sliced off, where it meets the San Andreas fault line, so that the land and rocks and occasionally the houses too along the soft cliffs there, yes the ones off in the distance in this photo, regularly slide down into the sea...

      Fort Funston
      Fort Funston, slippin' 'n slidin'...


  • Links

    • Wikipedia --
    • USGS
    • GuideBook


Layer 3 -- the land

The geologically-famous geologist's term is Franciscan "mélange" -- meaning it's-all-mixed-up, all-mashed-together... It's a suitable label, for a land formed by, and still constantly-changing under the guidance of, earthquakes and volcanoes -- not too much "on Earth" more violent and unpredictable, and changeable, than earthquakes and volcanoes...

The fertility of California's land in general is legendary. The alluvium washed down from the Sierras carries minerals and other nutrients which, combined with water, are sufficient to grow anything, in the state's warm sunshine.

California Cornucopia
California the Legend

For San Francisco, though, one problem has been the water. The water was a problem for Californians generally, too, in The Early Days. Native Americans learned to live with the floods and the dry seasons --California's typical "desert" landscape -- fitting-in. But Spanish, then Mexican, then many other newcomers needed to control it, for stock and agriculture, and ultimately for cities.

For the new people, Californian had either too much of the stuff or too little: Springtime floods would inundate the place, and the rest of the year the hot and parched land for them was unlivable. When John Sutter founded his famous fort in Sacramento, he built it on a little hill which was the only spot in the city center not a muddy bog, or actually under water, throughout most Springtimes. But by July the great rivers were small and low, and from then until Spring run-off time again there was little water for crops or cattle in most places, in Sacramento or in the rest of the state. Many "water projects" later, Californians still are fighting one another over water. The place now is thoroughly irrigated, though -- the fertile land, now gently moist the year round, stretches beneath its warm sunlight like a thousand-mile hothouse garden, from Mexico to Oregon.

But for San Francisco the water problem was even worse. The city lies at the tip of a long peninsula, surrounded by salt water -- 50 miles, from "Downtown SF" to the Peninsula's end at San Jose and the first possibility there of fresh Sierra water in large amounts. The Peninsula and the City land itself offered beautiful small springs, and creeks, and pretty waterfalls and lakes, but none of it was sufficient to support a large city.

San Francisco's land, then, was dry. The famous "adobe" clays which the Franciscan padres used for building their 18th century missions was the typical soil. But the City, in fact, was mostly sand: early photos show the great sand dunes of Ocean Beach and what now is Golden Gate Park, sweeping toward downtown as far as Divisadero Street, and even to Van Ness Avenue [Rumsey, 1853 Coast Survey].

Sunshine, too, was a problem for San Francisco. California has plenty of it: even the Bay Area has -- North Bay, East Bay, South Bay -- San Rafael and Berkeley and San Jose all get sunshine. But San Francisco gets fog. Xxx days per year [cite].

So The City, at its origins anyway, was dry and for much of the year dark. William Tecumseh Sherman failed as a banker, here, because he couldn't stand the fog -- Mark Twain made his famous declaration, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

So, a cold and dark and dry city built on sand... And, as if all that were not enough, San Francisco topography consists largely of not soil -- or sand --but rocks... steep hills, many of them, which give the city much of its distinctive character now, but must have been very discouraging to an 18th or 19th century immigrant looking to lay out a farm [Sunset District farm].

The earliest adventures of the Franciscan padres illustrate all this. After a couple of seasons spent freezing with the soldiers, over in their Presidio -- sharing their tiny El Polín spring, there, with little arable land available, and with fog blowing through nearly every day -- the padres had had enough --

Fort Point
Fort Point, bad "place" to grow corn

So they hiked over the hills to a level site on the lee side of Twin Peaks -- sheltered by the mountain from the fogs, which Peaks split into two arms, one headed east to Berkeley, and the other southeast over Candlestick Cove -- and at the side of the major San Francisco stream running down through Hayes Valley, over the Castro Street waterfall which Anza had seen [cite], and out to China Basin... it still runs, only underground, as any basement-owner along its route including Mission High School will attest... The Mission District... where the tiny and precious Mission Dolores still stands... windless and warm and well-watered, by San Francisco's severe standards at least... best place, and one of the few, with enough sun and water and arable land to grow corn, in San Francisco.

Mission Dolores
Mission Dolores, good "place" to grow corn

Shanghai, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Ancient Rome, Paris, London -- all these places, too, began as something other than sites with sun and water and arable land. And all had competitors: for San Francisco that was Oakland -- across the Bay, not isolated on a cold and arid peninsula, plenty of sun and water and lots of land. So when the Transcontinental Railroad folks made their bet, gamblers all, they bet heavily not on San Francisco but on its competitor Oakland... And then someone invented the steamship... Paraphrasing the reply of Calvin Coolidge, when a voluble admirer bet him she could make him say more than two words to her, "They lost"...


> Topics

Native?: On "water", and "soil amendments" -- how much of San Francisco's land is "native"?

Russian Hill:


Walking, vs Cable Cars & Streetcars & busses & underground, & BART, and The Automobile: each means of travelling through the City gives a different view of its "land" -- some never touch it.

Try a trip through San Francisco's quintessential agrarian district nowadays, using each, to appreciate the differences.

The Walker sees buildings, no soil -- stripping the masses of people and animals and cars from view, the way Paul Madonna does with his remarkable cityscapes [link], the buildings and streets come into better view, but the land is buried beneath, or hidden in tiny backyards.

No Cable Cars, in the Mission, and the Streetcars and Railroads are mostly gone, but from the remaining J Church line and the many busses one still can get an idea of the "view out" which many San Franciscans get from "riding the Muni". No view of "the land", there either, but at least the idea that there might be more of it...

The Muni Underground and BART can give the rider the interesting idea, if only for a few hurtling minutes, that there is more to San Francisco than just its surface -- down there with its rocks and now-buried streams, including the one which used to bubble over Anza's Castro Street waterfall and down to water the padres' cornfields.

And then there's traveling by car -- which sees nothing -- [freeway foto]


> Local places, to visit San Francisco's agrarian past or lack of it

  • Nicasio

  • San Bruno Mountain

  • Burlingame

  • Stanford Campus

  • UC Campus

  • Mission Dolores

  • Urban gardens

  • GGPark etc backwoods

  • Mountain Lake

  • Twin Peaks Links


Layer 4 -- the plants

Currently a leading cause célèbre in the place... In their passion to control the Earth, in order to "save" it, certain small groups have been burning trees -- giant pyres, of great old trees, like Tolkien's Old Forest or its Ents, belching black smoke into the crystalline skies of a clear San Francisco Sunday morning -- this in a place which not too long ago was a tree-challenged desert, with unlimited water rushing down from the mountains onto inundated Central Valley flood plains, then through the narrow straits and out into the Bay estuary, finally pouring forth through the single Gate and out into the Ocean...

But it only happened once a year, for a few weeks in Springtime. The rest of the year, California was a very dry place, and hot, with little vegetation -- oak trees, and grasses which by August were sunburned brown then black...

For "native plants" see San Bruno Mountain: carpeted with wildflowers for that brilliant two-week Spring, maybe, but tree-less, and hot and dry and dusty for the rest of the year...

San Bruno Mountain
San Bruno Mountain, San Francisco native habitat

  • Topics
  • Local places, to visit
  • Links


Layer 5 -- the animals

One of the oldest classification questions has been whether, and to what extent, to include humans among "the animals". From Aristotle onwards people who consider taxonomy important have wrestled with the category "human": we look and sound and behave like animals in so many ways.

Anyone who insists on the distinction should see Edward T. Hall's wonderful two photos of seagulls standing on a log, evenly-spaced, and of Londoners standing in a bus queue, ditto... to which wags ever since have added a shot of Italians rushing for their bus en masse, a useful reminder that seagulls may be individuated and culturally differentiated, too...

So the animals don't exist alone. Coyotes, in San Francisco's city center as elsewhere, live among many other animals, just as all city animals interact with the plants and rocks and earthquakes of this "place", and with its people.

Animals -- diversity

  • Topics
  • Local places, to visit
  • Links


Layer 6 -- the humans

We humans are a significant part, if only a part, of the place we inhabit -- as only recently we've been re-discovering in many long-forgotten ways. This has its good points and its bad points: for example here in San Francisco we live in a big city, most of us because we like it -- and so do the coyotes and other animals who live here, they like it too -- so now we need to figure out how to live together better, here.

the human footprint
San Francisco now from miles
up, the human footprint.

  • Topics
  • Local places, to visit
  • Links


Layer 7 -- the waters

Water is important everywhere, as some of the most shrill Cassandras in our current ecological crises remind us, constantly. Water is like population, it seems: we have either too little, or 'way too much -- rarely just the right amount for "us", often some unfair amount for "them".

Nowhere on the planet is this dynamic of overstatement more evident than in San Francisco.

The place is perched on the edge of an arid peninsula -- watered by a few little lakes, and nearly surrounded by sea water -- from nearly any point, in hilly San Francisco, you can see salt water, either the great Pacific Ocean itself or the tides it sends in through the Golden Gate to sweep the Bay.

Water & San Francisco
Water & San Francisco

All of California is a desert, in fact -- or at least it was until the current wave of humans got here, overtaxed the old balances, and artificially irrigated the place. The state gets good rain, and amasses massive snowpacks in its high mountains.

All of this once ran off rapidly in Springtime, however. The enormous Central Valley, on the edge of which San Francisco perches, annually flooded and became a bog -- when Captain Sutter arrived from Switzerland he built his famous "Fort" on the only Sacramento site that was reliably above water.

And Los Angeles was simply dry. Anyone who doubts this should try to find the Los Angeles River, in-flood or otherwise.

Deserts & San Francisco
Deserts & San Francisco

All this has been fixed, of course -- many times -- again and again, over 150 years, politics and money and engineering have given California its regular hydraulic facelift, needed to keep pace with massive population growth and other changes. "The Water Wars", some call them -- "Cadillac Desert", its more cynical critics say.

  • Topics
  • Local places, to visit
  • Links


Layer 8 -- the weather

And over all of this reigns, still, the weather -- the mildest or best or worst or weirdest the world has to offer, depending upon who's talking and what the recent experience has been -- deep snowpacks in the mountains or aridity in the Valley -- or, most famously, the fogs, Mark Twain's "coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" --

Weird Weather & San Francisco, 1
Weird Weather & San Francisco, 1

Weird Weather & San Francisco, 2
Wierd Weather & San Francisco, 2

  • Topics
  • Local places, to visit
  • Links


Layer 9 -- the stars, maybe

The Earth's sun is a star -- so to some extent is the moon, hanging up there in the sky, at least the latter is to any non-astronomer -- both influence the little "place" called San Francisco in fundamental ways, with tides and maybe Global Warming and other famous local features too. The animals know this -- people now are just beginning to remember --

Ocean tides & San Francisco
Ocean tides & San Francisco

-- the San Francisco Bay offers some of the world's highest tidal variations, strongest water currents -- ask any sailor who has tried bringing a little boat in through the Golden Gate at ebb tide, or anyone who has tried swimming from Alcatraz or boating on The Bay -- and the greatest shoreline inundation threats posed by Global Warming nightmares... all these affect coyotes too...

Ocean tides & San Francisco
Inundation may be coming, but then the Bay never stops changing

  • Topics
  • Local places, to visit
  • Links




Politics -- resources: local, state, federal, & now even more...

The USofA is one of the world's best "places" for doing the politics of all of this -- just try doing local-government on controversial issues anywhere else...

The different ideas, the differences of opinion, the discussions, the debates, the fights -- best seen in layers, too, it's like were baking cakes, here... in fact one genius of the US system is the availability to the citizen of federalism's many governmental layers, to both protect minorities and filter out the kooks...

It's always a messy process -- but lots of other places, less or more centralized, less or more bureaucratic, don't do it nearly so well --

Great "place" for politics.


    Resources: layers, & layers, of useful Authorities... some wielding "hard" power, some with "soft" 3, which sometimes / often / usually in fact is more effective --


  • Authorities, layer 1 -- community -- watching out for, and watching, the neighbors

    Meetings, meetings, meetings...
    Meetings, meetings, meetings...

    Hear, See, Speak No Evil...
    Meetings, meetings, meetings...

    > Resources -- at the community level, before becoming involved formally with truly-official "officials", where can one go for information, and help?

    • Clubs -- every community has these, from informal groups around the store stove on Friday nights, to Saturday morning talkathons at the coffee shop, to more formal groups with histories and their own buildings and charters and parades, like Elks and Golf Clubs and bridge sessions -- any time and place there is a gathering of humans there is talk, and that talk is great for defining "place".

    • Associations -- more formal than the most casual clubs -- usually there is something written, a charter or bylaws or a constitution, and regular meetings and minutes and roll-calls and votes -- which means reliable procedures, getting in the way sometimes, but sometimes too a guarantee of a hearing and fair treatment and democracy.

    • Community networks -- email and texting and blogging and chat and YouTube all being something new, most communities based on them have younger populations -- if you don't "tweet" you can't "Twitter" -- but among users accustomed to it, this rapidly is becoming the most efficient means of community information and interaction --

    • Volunteer and "Friends" groups -- the activist-end of clubs & associations & networks, supra -- these are folks who don't want just "talk", _they_ want "action" -- sometimes very good action, which really gets things moving, other times very wrong-headed & narrow-minded & ultimately destructive -- the true motors of participatory democracy, and "creative destruction" 4, for better or for worse.

    • Public arenas -- libraries, churches, schools

    • Outreach & education

    • Community-level government


  • Authorities, layer 2 -- local -- protecting minorities who don't fit into the neighborhoods, including just maybe coyotes -- the formalized and legal side of "community", enforced

    Local law courts, etc.
    Local law courts, etc.

    > Resources

    First Responders: police, fire, health

    Other officials: bureaucracies bad & good


    Legislation: Ordinances, and Regulations


    Local politicians:

    Conciliation & mediation

    Municipal law courts


  • Authorities, layer 3 -- state -- protecting minorities who don't fit into the localities, including just maybe coyotes

    > Resources


  • Authorities, layer 4 -- regional -- pooling resources

    > Resources


  • Authorities, layer 5 -- national / international / trans-national / the world of the NGOs -- protecting minorities who don't fit in anywhere -- even including, just maybe, coyotes

    > Resources

    • National

    • International

    • Trans-national

    • The NgOs/




Good Reads -- a few particularly-good things to read, on "Urban Wildness & Place", generally...

  • Thoreau. "Walking" (1862) -- fulltext: http://thoreau.eserver.org/walking.html

  • Jane Jacobs. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).

  • Francis Violich. The bridge to Dalmatia : a search for the meaning of place (1998).

  • Christopher D. Stone. Should trees have standing? : law, morality, and the environment (New York : Oxford University Press, 2010) 3rd. ed.

      "Trees have standing"(?)(!)

      The remarkable 1970s idea -- its popularization attributable to the remarkable US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas -- that trees ought to be able to stand up in court and plead their case, 'same as people do -- also coyotes, condors, polar bears --

      "In the landmark environmental law case, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), Justice Douglas famously, and most colorfully, argued that 'inanimate objects' should have standing to sue in court:

        The critical question of "standing" would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation. This suit would therefore be more properly labeled as Mineral King v. Morton.

        Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole - a creature of ecclesiastical law - is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases.... So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes - fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it.



  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among People / Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes (1755) -- "noble savages" and the "state of nature"... "urban life and its consequences" is an old conversation...

    "the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody /
    les fruits sont à tous... la terre n'est à personne!"
    -- J-J. Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, Part II.

    Rousseau, Discourse On Inequality.

    Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discourse_on_Inequality
    Fulltext in English: http://www.constitution.org/jjr/ineq.htm
    Fulltext in French (this one the original, among many editions online now at GoogleBooks): http://tinyurl.com/pjh4s6


  • A. R. Ammons
      • "Corson's Inlet" (1988) -- link to: fulltext
      • Garbage, (2002) -- a book-length poem, about life's ecologies plus some other things.


  • Paul Madonna
      • All Over Coffee (2007).
      • http://www.paulmadonna.com/
      • http://www.paulmadonna.com/aoc/index.htm

        "setting"... "no people or cars or animals, quieting the scene, stillness"... first step in deconstructing & analyzing the "human" layer, its visual / architectural / whimsical elements...

        Paul Madonna's unique pen & ink & humor art is one great way to get acquainted with "Layer 6 -- the humans", above. He calls his amazing drawings of San Francisco streetscapes "cartoons" -- is self-deprecating about them, saying, "I draw to support my writing habit" -- the little aphorisms & witticisms & sometimes very funny stories which come to him as he walks this urban habitat are, he insists, the inspiration and driving force for the drawings, a matter of text and drawing being in-balance.

        Some artists can open eyes to their surroundings better than any book or walk or scientific analysis or personal imagination can: Monet's light studies of Rouen's cathedral, Mt. Ventoux, the many portraits of Paris creating a unique "Paris of artists" -- I have walked San Francisco's streets for over 50 years, now, and never seen them as acutely as Paul Madonna has taught me to see them.

        Janet is an artist: her photographic "portraits" of San Francisco coyotes and other urban wildlife enable people to "see" them too.


  • Robert Frost. "The Gift Outright" (1942).

        The land was ours before we were the land's.
        She was our land more than a hundred years
        Before we were her people...

        Something we were withholding made us weak.
        Until we found out that it was ourselves
        We were withholding from our land of living,
        And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

        Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
        (The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
        To the land vaguely realizing westward,
        But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
        Such as she was, such as she would become.





    1^ Lifelong thanks from Jack to Fran Violich and Stanley Saitowitz, the one a great teacher, the other a fellow-student who once long ago made this great multi-layered "map"... And also, of course, thanks to Janet...

    2^ Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (1974).

    3^ Joseph S. Nye, Soft power: the means to success in world politics (2004).

    4^ Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, socialism and democracy (1950).




And, now, Disclaimers & Warnings, the legal stuff:

Janet and Jack Kessler make no express warranties
or representations and disclaim all implied
warranties regarding any design or content of this
"Place" (sm)(tm) webpage or Urban Wildness (sm)(tm)
website, or any resources reached using this webpage
or website, including any regarding
accuracy, currency, merchantability, or fitness for use.
We're just
tryin' our best,

All photos on this site are taken by Janet except those on this "Place" page, which are from Wikimedia Commons, the GNU License of which appears below. Website design for us, as some will notice, is sort of like the aphorism "never speak more clearly than you can think" -- to us content is king, and design never should take precedence -- OTOH function does follow form, very often, so we have tried our best, and suggestions on any aspect of this page's design, or discussions of any part of its content, all gratefully will be received, en américain or in English or French or even Spanish, via email to kessler@well.com.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
Subject to Wikipedia disclaimers.




And for anything else here not covered, legally, by the above license etc. -- and you'll have to ask your own "experienced copyright practitioner" lawyer, about that -- please see the following:

Best viewed with any browser

(Apologies and thanks to Sergey Ayukov. )

Copyright © 2009- , by Jack & Janet Kessler, all rights reserved.

Any & all comments or suggestions gratefully received via email:
(It's easy to get my permission to copy and distribute the things
I write, if you want it: just ask me -- email address appears
below -- generally I have no objection, as long as my name and
email address appear, but only if I'm asked in advance.)

"Place.htm" document maintained at: http://www.well.com/~kessler/UrbanWildness/Place.htm
"Place.htm" document maintained by: Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us
Last update: January 1, 2010