Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Monday, November 28, 2011

Remembering the Creek

Shortly after my folks moved to suburban Mountain View in the fall of 1954, Permanente Creek became my avenue into the wild. It flowed intermittently past the end of my street at the junction of Lloyd Way and Ernestine Avenue, and through a short tunnel under Mountain View Avenue. West of the tunnel, its forested banks wound sinuously toward the creek’s source somewhere in the coastal hills behind Los Altos. East of the tunnel it reflected an increasingly urban landscape. Lined with backyard tract home fences, its battered slopes held fewer trees and more boxes of trash, piles of grass clippings, and a panoply of indiscriminately dumped items from old bicycle parts to well-used girlie magazines. For a ten year old child it was a paradise.

Throughout my pre-teen years, there was no better place to explore, hike or get lost in. Despite the rapid growth of neighborhoods up above, Permanente’s creek bed still maintained some vestiges of the natural history of the south bay. Some native trees still flourished among the eucalyptus and pepper trees. Poison oak often covered the more protected slopes. Occasionally I would find a dead tarantula or alligator lizards. It was not unusual for me to pack a lunch, take a friend, and drop into the creek for an all day journey. Its winding channel seldom had much water in it and was almost always easy to navigate. When I was twelve years old I even wrote a book about it called “My Adventures in Permanente Creek”. With a home-made press run of one copy, it was a runaway best seller.

Permanente Creek, along with Adobe, Arastradero and Stevens Creek, was considered an intermittent stream but periodically it could carry an enormous amount of runoff. Such was the case during the wet winter of 1958 when it actually overflowed at the Ernestine Avenue junction and sent a three-inch “wall of water” down our street. It was probably these isolated incidents that eventually sealed the creek’s doom.

During my college years I was in and out of Mountain View, immersed in the social and cultural upheaval, and not really paying attention to the changes going on in my old neighborhood. But some time during that time period Permanente Creek was dredged and channelized, its dirt banks shaved and completely covered in concrete. Furthermore, at the old Mountain View Avenue bridge a tall cyclone fence was erected to ensure no unauthorized entry into what was now a sterile channel…as if that glorified culvert could hold any intrigue or appeal to a young child anymore.

It is difficult to fathom the loss of an entire ecosystem that dwelt within the confines of Permanente Creek for perhaps thousands of years. But it is even more difficult to imagine the loss of adventure, excitement and mystery for curious kids like myself who now blend into the old neighborhood like the sidewalks and strip malls…who, with the proliferation of electronic media, iphones, computers, video games, probably don’t even care. But without Permanente Creek, I would likely not have found my calling as a park ranger and lover of western landscapes. The creek was my salvation even though in the end, I could not save it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


“…and I don’t know who I am but, you know, life is for learnin’.” - Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

We baby boomers are an odd generation, born during the last great world conflict and conflicted ever since. I was born in 1947 when Robert Mitchum was filming Out of the Past and Humphrey Bogart was doing Dark Passage on the streets of San Francisco. I’m old enough to remember seeing Elvis Presley’s first TV appearance, catching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and watching the moon landing on a big screen in the Fillmore Auditorium while waiting for Country Joe and the Fish to start their first set. I grew up on the clean suburban streets of Mountain View before it was a part of the Silicon Valley. And walked the railroad tracks of the old Vasona Line before it morphed into the Foothill Expressway.

Look at me…this anomaly of the new millennia, listening to the Grateful Dead while nursing my arthritic joints. Working out at the gym between appointments with my chiropractor. Waxing nostalgic about the days of mushrooms and weed when the current drug of choice is Vicodin. I hobble into the future refusing to be beaten down, dancing to Fountains of Wayne and trying, in vain, to put the skids on Father Time. Behind me is the detritus of ex-lovers, broken marriages, old friends who didn’t make it, and a few lost opportunities. But also behind me are the years spent living in national parks, hiking and exploring the glorious American landscape, the raising of two beautiful children, and the opportunities captured.

When my grandfather was 65, he looked old. Suit clad and sedentary. I am nearly 65 but I still feel the beat, the energy, the vibe. My generation looks younger and keeps moving toward some indefinable goal, taking with it the broad perspective of the final half of the twentieth century. McCarthyism. Amos n’ Andy. Civil Rights. JFK. Duck and Cover Drills. Drive In Movies. Reagonomics. Space Shuttles. And a huge and diverse panoply of cultural iconic events. Seems like there is a lot more noise and confusion these days, and life keeps moving faster. But I am glad for when I was born, and that I can look back on a life well lived and never boring or taken for granted.

“No regrets, Coyote” – Joni again.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


It was my idea for Lindsay to go out on Halloween for one last trick-or-treat fest. Not that she wasn’t agreeable to it, having a ready-made cat costume at hand and the ambivalence a fifteen year old would have at going door to door. But she readily agreed that we could do one “final farewell tour” through the old historic district of Grand Junction where the big, stately homes and the tall trees created an appropriate ambience for the evening. So after dinner we drove down to 7th Street and parked, and started walking.

There were already some small groups of kids wandering around, and we could hear the laughter and shouting in the cool October night. Many of the houses were dark and seemingly uninhabited, while others were well-lit and welcoming. Nearly all of them greeted us with wide wooden porches and weathered steps, and flickering jack-o-lanterns along the walkways.

I hung back on the sidewalk while Lindsay went up to each door. But I paid close attention to the fine old details of the craftsman style homes with their broad open beamed front rooms, built-in bookcases, brick fireplaces and dark dormer windows. Often there would be a staircase leading up to the second floor, and amazing artifacts on shelves. Some of the homes still seemed locked in time with ancient hosts and hostesses come to the door. Others were obviously rentals with college kids and young families inside. But all of them together on those old broad streets created a kind of old-fashioned sense of community and caring. A small glimpse of Edwardian Americana come alive for one night.

I know that Lindsay tagged along primarily for my sake. She knew how much I savored those deep feelings of something nearly lost. And she could see me harkening back to my own childhood in California suburbia when the Halloween streets were rife with kids and costumes and a soon-to-be lost innocence. And she and I both knew that this might be the last time we would share in this fading fall ritual. So we soldiered on for several blocks in an unspoken alliance of magic and memory.