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 is all about its earthquakes...
|Earthquakes & volcanos & plate tectonics = California.|
Wikipedia -- first place to look, but never the last -- try for example,
-- also one indispensable little book which explains things very well and very clearly,
Doris Sloan, Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region
(University of California Press, 2006) California Natural History Guide Series No. 79, http://www.ucpress.edu
-- and one offering particularly beautiful pictures,
Michael Collier, A Land in Motion : California's San Andreas Fault
(University of California Press, 1999) http://www.ucpress.edu
For great views, up and down the dramatic fault-lines which formed our hills and valleys and bays -- and they continue to form them, several inches per year -- the whole place, constantly slippin' 'n slidin' --
Once you reach the top of Twin Peaks, though, the views are gorgeous, and the earthquake-formed layout of the "place" is very evident too: use a compass to look northwest then southeast, and you'll see -- there are the earthquake fault-lines, how the Earth views and has divided up our particular "place" and all the little things upon it -- the Pacific Plate to the southwest, colliding with and subducting beneath the North American Plate to its northeast, eventually burning up through volcanos in the High Sierra, and along the collision point forming the hills and valleys and bay which are San Francisco.
|Twin Peaks, San Francisco.|
|Earthquake / plate tectonics views from Hawk Hill, #1.|
Hawk's-eye view down upon The City and its famous Golden Gate, the Great American Flyway avian vista enjoyed on their twice-annual trek from the Arctic and Canada to and from Mexico and Points South.
|Earthquake / plate tectonics views from Hawk Hill, #2... with hawk...|
The Hawk Hill view offers a much clearer appreciation, too, of San Francisco's unique position hosting one of the great "primal soup kitchens" of the world's largest ocean: that is the the once-dry plateau of continental shelf, stretching from the current Golden Gate all the way out to the Farallon Islands where North America suddenly drops precipitously 5000 feet to the floor of the Pacific Ocean...
|North America meets the Pacific: the great salad bowl.|
Nothing static, about California, always changing, on the move, immigrating and emigrating, from the smallest coyotes and butterflies and humans and tree species to the very biggest things...
|Earthquake / plate tectonics views from atop Mount Tamalpais.|
|Earthquake / plate tectonics views from the Berkeley hills.|
From the top of this mountain, the greatest single expanse of mountain-top-viewed terrain in the world, a larger expanse than that taken in by the famous view from atop Mt. Kilimanjaro: California's Central Valley, 400 miles long and 100 miles wide, on a clear cold morning a view of a full 42,000 square miles -- east to the 15,000-foot snow-capped peaks of the High Sierras, where volcanos finally spew up as molten lava the Pacific Plate ocean floor which begins grinding beneath North America in back of you, to the west, just beyond the Farallones.
|Earthquake / plate tectonics views from atop Mount Diablo.|
Cearly, seen from sea level, the Bay islands are in line with the ridges, all of which run southeast-northwest, row after row of them, marching like lined-up rows of lemmings, to their ultimate collision with the Pacific Plate -- not-so-"pacific", that -- out beneath the Farallones.
|Ferry boats! Get a fish's-eye view of plate tectonics!|
And a bit further down the narrow earthquake valley, the highway snakes across Stanford University's mile-long Linear Accelerator -- from the car you can see the long structure through which the charged particles shoot, passing beneath you and racing off to hit their distant target -- directly over the San Andreas Fault, which could and someday will snap it like a twig -- as though the two universities, as they do in football, defy one another to see which can court the greater danger.
|Crystal Springs Reservoir, a sylvan view of the San Andreas Fault.|
|The California Academy of Sciences, |
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
|San Francisco Public Library, SFPL, |
the Main "Civic Center" branch.
|"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...
|Fort Funston, slippin' 'n slidin'...|
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 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, 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, 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"...
Native?: On "water", and "soil amendments" -- how much of San Francisco's land is "native"?
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
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 Francisco native habitat|
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|
|San Francisco now from miles |
up, the human footprint.
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|
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|
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.
|Weird Weather & San Francisco, 1|
|Wierd Weather & San Francisco, 2|
|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...
|Inundation may be coming, but then the Bay never stops changing|
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 --
|Meetings, meetings, meetings...|
|Meetings, meetings, meetings...|
> Resources -- at the community level, before becoming involved formally with truly-official "officials", where can one go for information, and help?
|Local law courts, etc.|
First Responders: police, fire, health
Other officials: bureaucracies bad & good
Legislation: Ordinances, and Regulations
Conciliation & mediation
Municipal law courts
"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:
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.
"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
"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.
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...
Janet and Jack Kessler make no express warranties
or representations and disclaim all implied
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"Place" (sm)(tm) webpage or Urban Wildness (sm)(tm)
website, or any resources reached using this webpage
or website, including any regarding
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
(Apologies and thanks to Sergey Ayukov. )
Copyright © 2009- , by Jack & Janet Kessler, all rights reserved.
Any & all comments or suggestions gratefully received via email:
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"Place.htm" document maintained at: http://www.well.com/~kessler/UrbanWildness/Place.htm
"Place.htm" document maintained by: Jack Kessler, email@example.com
Last update: January 1, 2010