Archive for the ‘richmond, california’ Category
This blog reached its fourth birthday a couple of days ago. Posting has been slower this year, but still pretty steady, averaging a little less than a post per week. There have been about the same number of posts about stone, but fewer posts about gardens this year. A lot of our time was spent designing rather than installing or maintaining, and I just generally seemed to be a bit less plant and garden focused this year. Also, I made a concerted effort to upgrade my drawing skills this year, so I often went out with a sketchbook instead of a camera, drawing landscapes instead of the plants in them. Next year I’m hoping to focus a bit more back on gardens, including making an effort to get photos of some of the ones we’ve designed. We’ll see what happens. My attention wanders a bit, but more or less stays on track with plants, natives, stone, gardens, and Bay Area/California landscapes. This week’s rains have germinated a ton of native wildflowers in our own garden, already has me thinking about what the coming spring is going to be like.
Lately, I’ve been walking our dog Carla on the Bay Trail near the Richmond Marina. There’s a section converted from an old rail line that I really like. The views are great, and the changing tides and light conditions make it a little different each time I go. I tend to stay moving and focus on exercising Carla, but I’ve done one sketch and taken a few photos. It’s one of the nicer places in Richmond and I’m likely to post about it again sometime.
I’m pretty happy to reach four years of blogging. Thanks to everyone who reads or comments.
Near our house, along the Ohlone Greenway bike path, there’s a wildflower area tended by volunteers. I’m not sure how long the area has been tended, but it was already established when we moved to Richmond five years ago. It’s a mix of native and non-native wildflowers, kept remarkably well weeded. From March until about June it has a consistent show of flowers and is impressive enough that I sometimes ride the mile or so out of my way to see what’s in bloom. This week I counted about two dozen different annuals blooming or budding. Cal poppies and phlox are the stars at the moment; later in the year there is always a big show of clarkia.
Past the wildflower area, the bike path effectively ends a few hundred yards later when it hits San Pablo Ave. The wildflower area used to be the turnaround point, but now there’s a restoration project just past it that is starting to grow in and be quite nice, too. The restoration project is in Baxter Creek Gateway Park, built in 2006, part of Richmond’s plan for the Richmond Greenway that would continue the bike path across San Pablo Ave and through the city to connect with the Bay Trail. Poor little Baxter Creek comes out of a pipe, gets a few hundred yards of daylight, and then goes back underground to cross San Pablo Ave into the brownfields of central Richmond.
These two photos are from a powerpoint online showing photos and drawings of some of their creek restoration work. I didn’t realize how much earth moving had gone into the restoration project, in contrast to the wildflower area where the work was little more than weeding and seed-scattering. The two projects go well together with the garden/flower appeal of the wildflower area and the ecology/infrastructure goals of the restoration.
The city reshaped the bed of the creek to make it more sinuous, using grading and habitat to help slow, filter, and infiltrate the water. Willows are the most obvious plant, but there are also young oaks, maples, buckeyes, coffeeberries, Toyons, monkey flowers, artemisias, yarrow, coyote brush, and probably others.
Even with the wildflowers and restoration work, there is no hiding that it is an urban setting. But I can appreciate the juxtaposition of native plants and corrugated metal, and nothing can undermine the look of a happy monkey flower.
Sometimes I get reminded that Richmond is a refinery town.
The biggest corporate property owner, employer, tax payer, and polluter in the city is Chevron. Their relationship with the city is often adversarial, with a business tax measure (T) aimed directly at them 2 years ago, an audit finding $28 million in underpaid taxes last year, and more lawsuits and threatened lawsuits and petitions than I can keep straight. Anita and I get opinion-polled about the company on a monthly basis, and recently the company invited us to a tour of their refinery. It’s the first time in anyone’s memory that they’ve opened their doors to the public, so getting the invitation felt a little like getting a golden ticket. I was expecting to see oompah loompahs or something.
The tour was, of course, tightly controlled. We were on a bus the entire time, and there were no cameras, cell phones, or bags allowed. I was hoping they would show us their restoration project in Wildcat Creek Marsh on the north end of their property, but they kept the tour within the main facilities. I’m not sure what I learned, maybe that they have a lot of pipes (5,000 miles on 2,900 acres) or how they sell the various bi-products of the refining process, including CO2 to carbonated beverage companies. After the tour, they gave us gift bags with aluminum water bottles (made in China), reuseable shopping bags, and some unconvincing literature touting all of the things Chevron does for the community and the environment. The Chevron logo on the shopping bags should cause much envy at the organic market.
We once had to do a lot of talking to convince a client that he didn’t want to chop down a healthy live oak that was just beginning to develop the kind of dramatic architecture that can’t be purchased with anything other than time. Since then, I’ve been wanting a dollar value for what a tree can add to a property, a number that’s easily cited and perhaps easily dismissed, but undeniably monetary and specific. A number like $8,870, the number that a recent study came up with after looking at how the presence or absence of street trees affected the sale prices for homes sold in east Portland during 2006-7. (The houses with trees also sold an average of 1.7 days quicker.) It’s obviously one of those statistics which can’t be applied too literally, but the researchers seem to have made an effort to account for some of the other variables that might surround the real estate sales. And though it is somewhat mercenary and doesn’t account for the many environmental and aesthetic benefits of trees and there probably isn’t a direct causal relationship, it might help people appreciate their trees more. What homeowner could hear that stat and not go right out to get a street tree? Personally, I’m sure I’ll cite the number at some point in the future, possibly to our landlord who knows that Anita and I are responsible for adding six street trees to our block. Shouldn’t that get us $53,220 credit towards our rent?
In a somewhat related note, I’ve always liked this planting of birches in my neighborhood and this post seems like the most reasonable time to mention it. The planting has an impressive total of 22 birches, which is 19 more than anyone else ever has. I’m pretty sure the birches count as ‘good overall tree cover,’ rather than as individual $8,870 trees, but there’s no question they make the house more valuable and desirable. The trees do the sun-in-winter, shade-in-summer thing for the house, and the planting always looks remarkably good, even when the understory needs maintenance. Designers talk about being bold or committed; 22 birches shows a serious level of commitment. Props to whoever planted them.
And in an unrelated note, the New York Times did a feature on Humphrey Slocombe, the ice cream store I mentioned a couple of posts back. The article’s a little heavy on the ‘wacky San Francisco’ angle, but then the ice cream parlor is actually pretty wacky and it’s hard to imagine it existing somewhere other than San Francisco. As an explanation for the unusual flavors, the proprietor says, “I just got to the point that I felt I’d have to kill myself if I ever made another crème brûlée or warm chocolate cake again.” Haven’t we all.
So this video doesn’t have much garden or stone content (I can’t picture the Jesus and Mary Chain pruning a shrubbery), but my motto this spring is that ‘I’m Happy When It Rains.’ I don’t know any of the lyrics other than the title and I’m sure the singer is really singing about a girl instead of precipitation, but I think of this song every time it rains. Partly because I can’t work when it rains (sort of a good thing, sort of a bad thing), but also of course because rain is good for the plants. Even when it messes with my schedule, it gives me a chance to catch up on office work, billing, banking, blogging, and all of the other things I can’t do while I’m on site in someone’s yard. Tuesday seemed like an unusually heavy rain for this late in the month, .32 inches in one day, and today has been even heavier. Historically, Richmond averages .54 inches in May; we’ve had .63 so far, which isn’t so high, but today will take us well past 150% of normal. I know someone whose birthday was on Tuesday, and she says it had never rained on her birthday in fifty years of living in California.
Something a little more positive about my neighborhood, a video taken at Bridges (technically across the border in El Cerrito, rather than Richmond Annex), the newish climbing gym near our house. Instead of roped climbing, the climbing walls are for bouldering and give a longer and more-highball climb than the bouldering walls at other gyms; you have to top out on all the climbs instead of just jumping down.
Along with climbing, the focus of the gym is slacklining, which is basically tight rope walking except that it’s done on climbing webbing which flexes and is more dynamic than a tight rope, dynamic enough, evidently, to use as a trampoline. Personally, I’m terrible at it; Anita’s pretty good, though not yet at the backflip stage. Slacklining used to just be something that climbers did on their rest days, but some of the people at Bridges are more interested in it than climbing, and I think now there are starting to be competitions for it.
A recent documentary about Dean Potter, the most famous slackliner, has a lot of footage and talks a bit about the origins of slacklining. Shorter scenes of Potter slacklining can be seen with soothing musical accompaniment or with an Aussie narrator and some entertaining quotes.
Andy Lewis, the slackliner in the video showed up in Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show.
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