Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Before Oakland was there...

The eastern shore of the San Francisco "Bay" (its actually an estuary) was once known as Contra Costa, the opposite coast. The name speaks volumes for the assumption of the center of attention for settlement and life in the neighborhood. But if it wasn't for that opposite coast, San Francisco would not have grown up, quite literally.

Before settlers rushed to find gold in the Sierras, there were huge stands of redwoods on that opposite coast. Sure, Oakland is named for its Oaks, but only because the redwoods were already gone by the time the town got big enough to really need a name.

Some speculate that they were the oldest and tallest groves of redwoods in the country. We will, of course, never know for certain. But we do know that they were a prominent feature of the hills. Indeed, they were a necessary point of triangulation for navigation through the Golden Gate and into the estuary.

But none of that mattered after 1849. Sure people were keen on coming through the Golden Gate, but they were more keen to get to the gold and some of them were wise enough to realize that the real fortune was to be made in setting up shop at the point of departure for the gold fields, in order to provision the prospectors.

Shops and their shopkeepers needed buildings. So did saloons, whore houses, missionaries, the military and all asundry who got to San Francisco and decided to stay. But one thing that San Francisco has lacked was wood.

Now a ship, devoid of its passengers and crew, can be harvested, but so too can the bounty of the opposite shore. No one, after all, was really using the resource.

And so the redwoods of Oakland were harvested, and the hills were denuded. I suppose it allowed for the grand presence of the oaks to be more prominent, but it was a loss.

I walked down into a path that led down along a creek. This was simply a place in the middle of a neighborhood with paths for hiking with your dog after work or your kids on the weekend...but there along that creek stood enormous stumps. I know that I am romanticizing, but I felt in what was left the immense power of the tree that was. The power of the place that was destroyed before there ever was a there, there.