I started my birthday with breakfast, big business decisions, and reading the news: the 40thanniversary of Mt St Helens eruption, when 3,000 feet blew off the top of the volcano, and ashes spread worldwide. Today, the pandemic coronavirus, and what will we do? How will this end?The skies are cleaner now than they’ve been for – maybe as long as most of us can remember. We’re making use the awesome human power to travel vast distances in space-time without leaving home, with our imaginations, with computers and books.
Mid-morning, I gathered up my baby one-year-old and headed out for a hike on Pt Pinole, which is a big remote peninsula out near where the Sacramento River flows into the San Francisco Bay. They used to
manufacture dynamite here, for the gold mines and new trains. The views of water stretch out in most directions. On the Bay View trail, paved since the last time I came here, I looked over the rolling hills and the pickleweed and beyond the bright indigo of a pair of western bluebirds towards the blue horizon; further inland, on the Nitro Trail or the Angel Buggy Trail, I walked under the old eucalyptus trees planted long ago to muffle the sound of explosions. All of the trails in
the park are wide and flat, paved or gravel, and easy to push a stroller across. It was a relief to my back, which has gotten so used to carrying the baby in a backpack.
Eucalyptus was a curious choice to plant, I think, given that the aromatic oils of the Australian eucalyptus are explosive, and those long strips of bark are famous for curling around hot embers to spread
I love abandoned industrial places. They remind me of the future. What things will be like after the end of what we call the Industrial Revolution. When things go back to some new normal. Native pickleweed and rushes and oak trees mix happily with European imports like fennel and ivy and mustard. Since birds and seals don’t always want to fly or swim 100 or 500 miles to find a pristine national park when they’re ready for their next meal, places like this one are usually teeming with happy animals. I’ve been mostly a cyclist and a walker for most of my life. I travel like the wildlife, on my own power. So I find these smaller, maybe polluted, open, wild spots. Near me, wherever I’ve lived. I used to live a mile away, and would come down here once or twice a week for a soothing recovery ride on my bicycle, or maybe to cool my legs in the estuary. This is the second or third time I’ve been back in the eight years since I moved a dozen miles away, the first time in a car.
The Hayward Fault runs through Pt Pinole. Life is uncertain near the junction of tectonic plates. Volcanoes erupt and earthquakes shake, mountains reach their full grandeur and rolling hills abound. I’ve lived on the Pacific Coast of North America for twenty-nine years, so I’ve gotten used to this combination of slow change and sudden danger, instability and scenic glory.
And here we are. The year when Covid-19 scared the world into stillness. This historic moment gives us some perspective on the big picture, like a breathtaking vista from a tall mountain. The layout of the land is visible from where we stand, and you can see the whole territory laid out like a big topo map. When we come down from here, we will be in a new place. But where? What will be different?But also the big businesses are winning more than their share of subsidies, regulations are being repealed, and the billionaires in America have gotten 10% richer in the first 6 weeks of our shelter-in-place, while small businesses and indviduals go broke. Many of us feel isolated, without regular face-to-face contact with people outside our household. Governments are rolling back regulations about pollution and privacy.
Which side of the mountain will we be on when we come down? Or should I ask, where will be the mountain? We have the power to choose our destiny. Humans have become a geological force.We reached the end of the peninsula and turned east along the Marsh Trail, where the trees give way to rolling grass. My mind stopped wandering and my legs picked up the pace. When I’d gone out as far as my legs wanted to go, 3.7 miles on my cell phone pedometer, I put the Baby Tommy down in the first patch of tall, golden grass that was soft and not prickly. He smiled and grabbed the grass heads. He showed me six or so varieties of wild grass. He hugged me. He would’ve stayed out in the field all afternoon. Since I live in an apartment, the only place where I feel confident that the ground will not infect him with a deadly virus is someplace very remote. We drank some water from the bottle I’d brought from my bike shop. I took some photos. We made a phone call. Then it was time to go.