Recently I’ve been doing research on the plants of Jamaica. This is for a series of artworks that I’m working on. Many plants that are now on the island were actually introduced by its two colonizers, the Spanish and British. This drawing is of the breadfruit; it was brought to Jamaica to feed the slaves. The plant has no nutritional value whatsoever. As a cheap food source, it served its purpose of keeping the slaves alive at little to no cost.
On another note, there is a Bay Area company that is doing its part to save the bees. It creates and sells seed bombs. The idea of seed bombs comes from Guerrilla Gardening, a method of planting begun by environmentalists who would simply throw balls of seeds and fertilizer into fenced-off neglected spaces like brownfields or land that was in zoning limbo. Hmmm, I’m looking at you, fenced off lands near BART stations! Read more about seed bombs and saving the bees here: Save the Bees With Seed Bombs
Some of my favorite art is temporary and outdoors. Such is the art of Andres Amador. Here he is at work by the seaside. Besides nature, the artist’s only tool here, is a leaf rake. His media is the beach/sand. Watch as he creates a mandala at Ocean Beach in this less than three minute long vimeo:
November in the Bay Area means there will be California oak moths in the woodlands. There are a lot more of them this year than last year. This is good news for the birds and spiders that eat them. Silvery grey, about the size of a nickel, they are noticeable only when they flutter about. (They are camouflaged by the now silvery colored oak leaves.)
Where to See Oak Moths
If you are in the Monterey Bay area, the Elkhorn Slough Reserve is a good place to see California oak moths. The trails along the Long Valley, South Marsh and Five Fingers loops are home to oak woodland and forests. Wherever the woodlands are, you are sure to find oak moths. If you hike the South Marsh trail, stop by Hummingbird Island. It is a great place to see hummingbirds and sometimes, otters as well. Closer to the San Francisco peninsula, you will find oak moths in the Palo Alto Foothills and in the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.
Summer’s winding down here in Northern California. Soon we will be in the rainy season. Six months of dry weather followed by six months of potential wetness. Every year’s the same. This Mediterranean climate is a boon for flora and fauna. So much inspiration for my art is here. My spirit soars and my legs take flight. I like it here. I like it a lot!
Ubiquitous graffiti — If you look hard enough, you will find some. Just off Cabrillo Highway, where Pigeon Point Road begins, a narrow footpath leads down to the sea. Here, an unexpected find: graffiti by a tunnel under the road.
In a canyon in Northern California sits the classic marble pavilion, the Sunol Water Temple. Built in 1910 by a private water company, it now belongs to the municipality of San Francisco.
More than half of San Francisco’s water used to pass through Sunol. Now most of the Bay Area’s water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Water System nearly one-hundred-and-sixty miles away in the Yosemite valley.
Hetch Hetchy Water System
Pulgas Water Temple
Another water temple, this one made of cast stone, is on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. Twenty-four years younger than its Sunol counterpart, the Pulgas Water Temple (in Redwood City) was built by the municipality of San Franciso to commemorate the completion of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. Compared to the water temples of Bali, however, these two are babes, aged as they are at seventy-eight (Pulgas) and one-hundred-and two years (Sunol).
Balinese Water Temples
There is an ancient ritual of water management – irrigation – that has been practiced on the volcanic slopes of Bali for over a thousand years. This is subak, a custom built around water temples. It is/was at the heart of Balinese rice paddy/terrace farming. I wonder what materials are used to make these water temples. With their subdued color they blend into the landscape in a way that the California ones don’t.
The Essence of Subaks
In the subak system, priests apportioned the water for farming. Different communities (subaks) planted their crops at different times and allowed their paddies to go fallow simultaneously. Rotating the cultivation was an effective means of distributing and conserving water; letting fields go completely fallow controlled pests.
Challenges to the System
The thousand year old subak system came under pressure when Asia embraced the Green Revolution in the 1970s. Conflicts between government agencies and subaks, plus a steady increase in tourism, significantly altered the Balinese landscape. In 1999 there was about 1,500 subaks on Bali (with about two-hundred members each), covering an irrigated area of more than 90,000 ha.* In 2012 when UNESCO gave subaks its national heritage designation, there were five rice terraces (and their water temples) covering 9,500 ha.** Although some of these changes can be attributed to post-colonial migration, much of it is due to the pressures of tourism on land use. Today, the remaining subaks still meet at water temples to discuss community farming decisions.
Oh the Bay, she is a wonder. See her from afar as you hike Coyote Hills and you will be treated to ribbons of pinks and greens mixed with whites, browns, blacks and reds. None of these colors are apparent when you stand next to her at ground level. I certainly saw no evidence of them when I hiked along her shores at Eden Landing. Thanks to my time at Coyote Hills, some new colors are about to appear on my palette. Who knows how the piece that now sits on my easel will turn out!
The San Francisco Bay Trail at Eden Landing
When I’m at ground level with the deep, deep parts of the Bay (near the San Mateo Bridge and Eden Landing, for example), fear commingles with awe. This may be because of the sounds the Bay makes as it moves toward you and then backs away, sucking and gurgling, slapping and pulling. A few sharp slaps from the wind-whipped water were reminders of how small I am and how huge the Bay is. I felt this even more acutely as I walked across the long wooden bridge that is part of the trail at Eden Landing. At low tide the bridge crosses over shallow mudflats. At high tide, like the day I was there, the water surged beneath the bridge and slapped at the pilings. The bridge shook.
No sign of mud flats. Yikes!
In Search of the Other End of the San Francisco Bay Trail
Perhaps I was by Alameda Creek or the Hayward Regional Shoreline. It could also be that I was near neither. Although my GPS indicated that I was ten or so miles away from the other end of the San Francisco Bay Trail (the section that starts at Eden Landing), I don’t know where I was. This part of town was very industralized. I could’ve been in Union City or in Hayward, or maybe even in Fremont. All three cities have highly industrialized spaces with sections running along the Bay. I get lost quite often but each wrong turn is an adventure.
I parked along a dead end street somewhere off Whipple Avenue and ducked through a locked gate to start my hike. I walked past garbage, old salt flats and marshland. At the beginning of the trail was a fenced in truck yard. Soon I was walking past marshland (to my left) and dried up salt flats (to my right). About a mile into the walk, I came across a concrete levee. Here, water flowed through a drainage pipe that ran under the embankment. This piped water ran into the marsh. In a pool of water sat piles of plastic and metal. Where was this garbage coming from? This was not good for the birds and other wildlife that live here. As the trail at levee’s end was blocked by a locked gate (to which was affixed a “No trespassing” sign), I headed back to the car.
opposite side of the levee
close up of sign
Perhaps next month I’ll visit this area again. There was evidence of wildlife in the bird songs I heard and in the scat of various small animals that I saw. I think too, that the residents of the nearby community walk their dogs on the trail and do not clean up after them. In the middle of this wasteland then, there was hope, sadness and possibilities. I counted at least six different bird songs along my walk and I found the feathers of three different kinds of birds. Their droppings lined the path, a definite sign of a robust population. Perhaps another tell-tale sign of a healthy bird population is the sign I saw on my way onto the trail, “Duck hunting permitted in season, by permission, California Department of Fish and Game.” Is this even necessary? Why not just let the ducks live?
Green Streets, a film in progress, was featured at this weekend’s 2013 San Franciso Green Film Festival. The quote above is from one of the film’s participants. It illustrates the feeling that comes from doing something worthwhile. Here is a short clip from the documentary:
If you are no where near California’s Bay Area or Mexico’s Baja coast, you may never have heard of an elephant seal. And although you may have read about them in my earlier posts, you may still not realize how interesting and special these creatures are. I hope you enjoy learning (more) about them as you watch this very short video.
I’ve been around rivers all my life. In the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, a river ran behind our house and also across the street. It could have been two different rivers or maybe it was one river and the Jamaica Public Works Department interfered with it by running a road across it. I don’t know. Since we lived about twenty miles upriver in the same direction as Serge Island, I would guess that the river of my early memories is the Morant River. Later on, when we moved further down towards the sea, I again encountered rivers, including the one that emptied out into the Caribbean about a mile or two from my first school. That too, may have been the Morant River. I don’t know.
As a small child, I took all these rivers for granted. They were constant companions to play in, get stranded on boulders in, watch from the upstairs rooms of our house, and follow as we drove down the valley to places like Serge Island, Trinityville and Morant Bay. On longer drives, as we made our way down winding mountain roads to Kingston or towards Golden Grove in Portland, we drove past children splashing about as their mothers, aunts and grandmothers washed and dried clothes by the river banks. Always of interest, were the lambs, new arrivals to the kingdom of god, dressed in their flowing white robes and tightly wound turbans. Dipped into the river, they were born anew and welcomed into the fold of believers. There was the occasional Rastaman, bathing and shaking his locks dry, and there was also me, a small girl, skipping over rocks, collecting “beads” from river grasses, following the river to its end by Lyssons Beach. I didn’t realize it then but these things were all my special friends.
Plantain Garden River
My all time favorite river in our home parish was the Plantain Garden River. I loved its name and I reveled in the names of the communities through which it ran. Most of all, I loved that it “walked its own walk,” refusing to run in the same direction that the other rivers on the island did. This river, the Plantain Garden, runs through communities with names like Ginger Hall, Airy Castle and Sunny Hill. Whereas all the other rivers in Jamaica (nearly one hundred of them) flow north or south, my idol flows eastwards. I am sure there is some geographical reason for this but for me, it is its difference that makes it memorable.
The parish of St.Thomas is filled with rivers. These include the Clock and Roaring rivers, both of which meet the Plantain Garden River in the district of Ginger Hall. As memorable as the Plantain Garden may be, it is the Yallahs River that is most striking. Just about every year this river floods its banks, rages across the land making roads impassable and in some cases, makes lives unbearable and unlivable. During floods and hurricane season, it cuts country off from town and vice versa. It surges in a mad rush, taking crops, livestock, homes and humans with it.
Yallahs is a heavily mined river. It is valued by the construction industry for its sand and river rocks. It is also valuable to the National Water Commission (NWC). The primary provider of potable water in Jamaica, the NWC designed the Yallahs Pipeline Scheme to divert an estimated average annual yield of 16.4 million imperial gallons of water per day from the Yallahs River. This water is channeled into the Mona Reservoir, a large concrete dam that serves the semi-metropolitan area of St. Andrew. In some ways this undertaking is similar to the construction of California’s Hetch Hetchy Dam and the diversion of water from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay area. In both cases, the corporate area gathers water at the expense of the countryside. To learn more about the Blue Mountain Multi-Purpose Project of 1980 and its possible ecological impacts, access the Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources of the Government of Jamaica’s special report here: <http://www.pcj.com/dnn/Portals/0/Documents/SWECO%20PREINVESTMENT%20B3.PDF>
~Please stay tuned for next week’s, “The RiverRoad” part two.~