In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday. -Thornton Wilder

0.   Tour of Mt Davidson to discuss its management Sat June 30
1.   El Polin Celebration Day Saturday June 30
2.   Mary Oliver: What Is There Beyond Knowing?
3.   Feedback: Atheists and metaphors/Constitutional amendments
4.   Alameda Creek Alliance: Save Tesla Park/BART Weir fish ladder
5.   Catalog Choice - protection for your name & address
6.   Thinkwalks schedule for July/Aug
7.   Rebus - Jane Hirshfield
8.   Scientific American potpourri
9.   Forest fires - history/observations/money
10. Would our species benefit if organized religions were dispensed with?


0.  Tour of Mt Davidson to discuss its management - three spaces left

Saturday, June 30, 10am to noon
Leader:  Jake Sigg
RSVP appreciated 731-3028

The purpose of this walk is to provide personal experience with management issues on Mt Davidson, with special focus on the eucalyptus plantation.  Discussion of the subject so far has been unfocused and is rife with misunderstanding.  Some of that misunderstanding is a result of false information propagated by various groups.  There is no better way to understand than by being there.  The leader, by the way, has had a long love affair with the Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), the principal tree under discussion, and has long advocated retaining the forest and its character, but managing its understory. 


1.  Hi Jake: There will be a very special event this Saturday morning in one of the newest polished jewels of urban nature: El Polin Spring. Can you please share with your next report if you do one this week? thx! Damien

El Polín Celebration Day
Saturday June 30th
Community Stewardship & Ohlone Blessing Ceremony
9 am to noon
Join us for a morning of stewardship in the Presidio’s Tennessee Hollow Watershed. Volunteers will help with a variety of activities to help enhance scrub, grassland, woodland, and wetland habitats at El Polín Spring. Kid-friendly volunteer and educational activities will be provided for families with young children. At 10:30 a.m. volunteers will be treated to a ceremonial celebration by native Californians from the Rumsen Ohlone tribe. All ages welcome. (A Tennessee Hollow Watershed water bottle will be given to each volunteer!) Meet at El Polín Loop. Tools, gloves and snack provided! Please RSVP to or call 415/ 561 4451


What Is There Beyond Knowing?

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me?  I can't

turn in any direction
but it's there.  I don't mean

the leaves' grip and shine or even the thrush's
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven's slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that's always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same -- what shall I say --

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable.  How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out.  Life so far doesn't have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there's a temple, I haven't found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(New and Selected Poems Volume Two)


3.  Feedback

Kerry Kriger:
Hi Jake,
Paper attached you may want to see.

Not sure we needed God poems in your newsletter...forgive my blasphemy.
Easy to forgive your blasphemy, as I am of the same view.

BTW, there is no god in my life.  But you can't talk about physics, the world, or anything fundamental without talking about the way the world works.  Physicists (eg, Einstein) and poets use god as a metaphor for the way the world is and how it unfolds.  God is such an easy shorthand for this, and I tried doing without it, but gave in to the easy way.  Relax; it's just a metaphor.

Dave Goggin:
2. The world is not a courtroom,there is no judge, no jury, no plaintiff.
This is a carvan, filled with eccentric beings telling wondrous stories about God.
There is no 'God' either. -DG
You're the second one of my fellow atheists who reacted to this particular reference to Mr G.

It's hard to talk about matters without reference to how nature works.  Poets and physicists have always used the word as a metaphor for the ways of the physical world.  It is too convenient to dispense with, so I say to hell with anyone who personalizes it and needs to take the metaphor in a literal sense.

You'd have a hard time expressing this poem without a shorthand metaphor.
Not really.  How about substituting 'The Universe'.  At least that is reality-based.

Yeh, but not poetic.  Won't do.

As it is written, the poem just sounds silly and pious.  It might as well read 'the tooth fairy' or 'santa claus'.

ps: Check out my calligraphy piece, on the 6th floor of the main library these days -a quotation paraphrased from Robert Ingergoll.  There was a guy who could really write and speak eloquently without god-talk!
Well, Dave, I'll have to think about it.  You surprise me.  It doesn't sound silly and pious to me, and I'm an atheist. 

Don't get to the library often, but I'll make a note to check out your calligraphy piece.

On Jun 26, 2012, at 7:55 PM, Benjamin Wheeler wrote:
Hi Jake,
Once again I see a quote that doesn't match the one I have in my favorite quotes file.  I looked around the internet and found a reference to the Adlai Stevenson quote below which gives this, which is very close to what I have in my file:

Admirer: "Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!"
Stevenson: "That's not enough, madam, we need a majority!"

Unfortunately the article states that the quote has appeared in several variations, is disputed, and can't be confirmed.

(See "Disputed" box near bottom of article.)
Once again, truth rears its ugly head.

Thanks, Ben; I appreciate corrections, even if they occasionally dampen the fun.  I'm aware that all the many quotations I send are, by the nature of things, different--even perhaps false--than what was said.  Since I don't have the time to research all of them (I have hundreds, if not thousands, in my computer), I put them out there and count on alert readers to correct.
Sometimes a quote rings so true that it doesn't really matter if it is authentic. ;-]

Brian Malow:
Here's the attribution for that light pollution article:

(I googled a chunk of text from the end of the post)
Thank you, Brian.  I thought it was Guardian Weekly and actually tried to search it, but GW's Search sucks--although it is not completely useless like Science News' Search.

I give Science News the title of the article, the SN writer of the article, the date of the issue--and the response is always the same:  No Results.  It's wasted time to try to find most items in SN.

On Jun 25, 2012, at 10:34 PM, jan blum wrote:
Hi Jake:
 I am sending  this to you personally.  I have no idea as to whether or not this is another scheme to raise buckets of money and do very little  or is fully  legitimate.  I sincerely hope it is legit.  I did not want this sent out to your entire newsletter list without some vetting first, but that is your call.  Perhaps you can post it as  new, untested site promising to help restore democracy by giving voters the opportunity to overturn the "Corparations are People" ruling of the Supreme Court – or some such.  Caveat emptor. 
Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2012 22:27:59 -0700
Subject: Constitution Amendment effort

Dear friends:  I have just learned that while the Supreme Court overturned Montana's long standing law preventing corporations from making donations, essentially buying an election, that Montana's Governor (Dem) and Vice Governor (Rep.) are starting  a consitutional amendment effort  to enable the American voters to weigh in on this vital issue.

I just signed up on the website for more information and I thought you might be interested in learning more, too, and if it pans out to be aboveboard and legitimate, becoming involved in the effort.   Here is the web link:

Jan:  I would be interested in knowing what you find.  I heard of this, but I don't know whether it's a quixotic gesture -- oh yes, I just now decided it would be.  Why?  Because not everyone is as outraged as you and I, and almost half of voters are Republicans.

Do you know what it takes to amend the Constitution?  And do you know how much energy went into the last attempt, the ERA?  That was a heartbreaker.

It's quixotic, Jan.  I don't like being a wet blanket, but I can't see how this would have a chance.  Disabuse me, please.
On Jun 26, 2012, at 10:27 PM, jan blum wrote:
My dear Jake:
    I was not "alert" or even paying the slightest bit of attention to politics  when the ERA amendment  fight was going on, despite being a recipient of the resulting benefits which changed my life so much for the better.   
 So here is what I propose about the current Cons. Amendment effort: 
   Let's not start banging the drum and wait a while to  see if the "larger community" starts picking this up.  As you well know, it only takes a few days or weeks to drive the internet to full blown frenzy when great ideas get out there.  Unfortunately,  my cynical side says that within a week I will start getting daily urget requests for money.  When that begins and seems the entire focus of effort,  my enthusiasm for a cause sinks molto rapido and if I cannot get off their mailing list, results in my spamming their further  emails.  
   I cannot disabuse you of your feelings but will stay on the alert for intelligent life in our universe and to see what might develop. On the positive side,I hereby  request the right to contact you again with better, more positive,   news should the occasion arise. 
Your fan, Jan
By all means, do keep sending me stuff, Jan.  I like being contacted by some of the "intelligent life in the universe". 

I intend to post this exchange, lightly edited--mostly because you pressed one of my buttons:  the number of organizations whose existence depends on sending out Action Alerts, keeping people in a constant state of alarm to keep the contributions flowing.  I wonder if anyone has studied the amount of money that goes into this kind of "environmental" activism, not to mention the resources:  organizational overhead, paper, postage, people's time.  And you have to get up pretty early in the morning if you want to become more cynical than I on this subject:  How many executive directors owe their existence to keeping people stirred up?  It's sickening when you think of the real causes that need help, are responsibly and intelligently run, and put your money to good use.  Those organizations may occasionally send out action alerts, but not a constant flow of them.

A thought:  There are "charity watchers"--organizations which rate various categories of 501 (c) 3 organizations (including environmental) for effective use of funds.  The main criteria of the one I give to has to do with technical financial issues, which seems a different take on the subject you and I are talking about.  Do you have a way of smelling out the real ones vs the self-promoting?  I advise a friend who is under constant bombardment from the latter to count the number of action alerts she receives.  If she gets more than 2-3 in a year I advise her to cut off that organization.  Do you know a better criterion?

Cynically yours,


4.  Alameda Creek Alliance

Save Tesla Park

Just east of the Alameda Creek watershed is the valley of Tesla, a land of scenic ridge tops and dramatic canyons feeding into Corral Hollow Creek, a west side tributary of the San Joaquin River. Corral Hollow is a biologically unique and culturally significant landscape with mountain savannah grassland and blue oak woodland habitats that support a wide range of sensitive wildlife species, is the northernmost limit of many rare native plants and is a critical habitat corridor for wildlife through the Diablo Range.

You own this land – it was purchased by the California State Parks. But the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Division of California State Parks wants a major expansion of Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area and destructive off-road vehicle use into 3,478 acres of the Corral Hollow Creek watershed. 

Take action to protect your public state park land and important endangered species habitat in eastern Alameda County from destruction by off-road vehicles.

See the Center for Biological Diversity’s action alert on this issue: Save Tesla Park From ORV Destruction.

Read the related story in today’s Livermore Independent about how the state has to clean up contamination of Carnegie soil and stream flow from off-road vehicle abuse: Lawsuit Forces State to Follow Environmental Rules at Carnegie

More information at the Friends of Tesla Park web site.

BART Weir Fish Ladder Design Nearing Completion

The Alameda County Water District and Alameda County Flood Control District are working on a preliminary design for the critical fish ladder for steelhead trout to be able to bypass the BART weir and middle rubber dam in the lower Alameda Creek flood control channel.

You can view a YouTube video of the conceptual design that gives you a fish-eye view and takes you on a virtual tour up through the proposed fish ladder.

The final design and environmental review for this fish passage project is expected this year; construction is scheduled to begin in 2013 and be completed by 2014. Construction on a second fish ladder at ACWD’s upper rubber dam is scheduled for completion in 2015.

(JS:  I wonder if this is one of those organizations I just described in preceding item?  Give me your feedback on whether I'm promoting something I shouldn't.)

Catalog Choice
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With MailStop Shield you can take another big step toward protecting your personal information and stopping unwanted mail. Subscribe today for an annual fee of just $35.


6.  Scheduled Thinwalks in the blasting fog months:
July 3 - Divisadero Water History
July 7 - Secret Creek Exploration around Fort Point
August 10 - The Wiggle Neighborhood Natural & Cultural History
August 13 - Outside Lands (Golden Gate Park) bike ride 10 a.m.
September 1 - Secret Creek Exploration TBA

Check the site for details. I'm skipping the August Secret Creek hike. I'll be out of town. Creek hikes are longer than other thinkwalks, and they're free.

And speaking of free: D'you want to volunteer to help distribute our free educational info cards in your neighborhood? All you have to do is keep the two best locations stocked!

Hey! Look!
It's your monthlyish Deep SF Fact, now with Context (not trademarked).

Be amazed: You thought SF is hilly now? Here are some hills that were removed:
-^- Irish Hill east of Potrero Hill (approx. 190 feet high)
-^- Clinton Mound (seems likely it was the lobe of Mint Hill on the first block of Dolores St. about 100 feet high)
-^- a long, thin, unnamed scrub-covered dune along Page and Haight from Baker to Buchanan (60 feet high)
-^- a 120-foot high dune at 10th & Howard. That's 12 stories!
(and there were many more!)

The previous Deep SF Fact I sent out made a splash, so I think it's best to add some additional details about the Golden Gate Bridge design by under-appreciated architect Gertude Morrow.

Let's get some things perfectly clear: Clifford Paine, engineer, designed the bridge's engineering. Gertrude Comfort Morrow designed the art deco aesthetic with her husband, Irving F. Morrow. Joseph Strauss was the chief engineer, but he designed not so very much since he was overwhelmed. The Roeblings, who also engineered the Brooklyn Bridge, did the GG Bridge cables, and they also created a pedestrian bridge in Golden Gate Park—now long gone but more deeply discussed in the Thinkwalks iPhone apps.

News on the Thinkwalks iPhone app is good: Soon there will be a version of the apps (Everything Explained and Local Nerd!) that you can buy for two bucks each, without having to first buy the sampler. They'll be easier to buy, lower price, easier to promote, and just as full of fun and eye-popping information about SF. Between the two apps, there are over 150 locations hand-nit-picked for how they fit the big picture.

The big picture: You know I'm not one for silly little anecdotes. Go for a full understanding, I say. Knowing how the world really fits together, or at least considering the question deeply, is essential in making your own impact. In these times of renewed witch hunts and radical purity campaigns, anthropocene geology, extreme weather and shrunken memory every little bit of context helps.




You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus - slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life -
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

~ Jane Hirshfield ~

(Given Sugar, Given Salt)

(Rebus -- "A representation of words in the form of pictures or symbols, often presented as a puzzle.")

NEWS: North Carolina Sea Level Rises Despite Senators
Less than two weeks after the state's senate passed a climate science-squelching bill, research shows that sea level along the coast between N.C. and Massachusetts is rising faster than anywhere on Earth

NEWS: California Condors Face Menace of Carcasses Laden with Bullet Lead
The signature species may require perpetual conservation, despite a 2008 state ban on the use of lead shot in key regions

EXTINCTION COUNTDOWN: RIP, Lonesome George, the Last-of-His-Kind Galapagos Tortoise

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND: Bad Habits May Cause Older Drivers' Mistakes
How we can train elderly drivers to be safer

Debate over fire retardant toxicity rages in West – MSNBC
The agency has never proven in the field that fire retardant is effective, said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
"Why use it if it's not effective? If it's not effective, I don't care if it's environmentally benign. It's a waste of money and firefighters' lives," Stahl said.

Forest magazine, Summer 2009 (next two items)
“Eliminate fire and you can build up, for a while, carbon stocks, but at a probable damage to the ecosystem upon whose health the future regulation of carbon in the biosphere depends.  Stockpile carbon and you also stockpile fuel, the combustion equivalent of burying toxic waste.  Cease controlled burning and, paradoxically, you may stoke ever larger conflagrations.  Refuse to tend the domestic fire, and the feral fire will return.”     Fire expert Stephen Pyne, March/April 1992

“Over the last four decades the high residential losses associated with fires in southern California have prompted numerous reports by state commissions on how to prevent a recurrence of such fires.  The reports repeatedly found that flammable roofing and a lack of vegetative clearance near the structure were highly associated with destruction.  However, these findings have had insignificant residential application.”
    Jack Cohen, at the time (1994) a researcher at the U.S. Forest Service’s South Forest Fire Laboratory, Macon Georgia. 

“Until 1985, only a few fire seasons exceeded $100 million in firefighting costs.  For 1996, I expect the figure will approach $1.5 billion—and maybe more.  Worse, at this time, I doubt anyone really knows how high the figure will go.  My sense is that agency line officers and managers need to become more deeply involved in looking at just what is contributing to the expenditure of such obscene amounts of money.  Further, all of us need to refocus on the goal of applying the ‘right tool for the right job in the right place at the right time’, and we need to do it soon.  Otherwise, we will continue to descend further and further into a black hole of inefficiency, excessive waste, mediocrity and declining morale.”
    Murray Taylor, thirty-year Bureau of Land Management firefighter
    January/February 1997

“The annual federal firefighting budget is threatening to top $2 billion by 2009.  Each year this figure grows, as does the number of homes built in the wildland-urban interface.”  Forest magazine, Spring 2008
Pyne, Stephen J.: World Fire:  The Culture of Fire on Earth
Fire in California
Each year, and for long periods of every year, fire can propagate somewhere everywhere.  Humans ensured that ignition remained more or less constant.  California nourished an intricate melange of native tribes, none of which, interestingly enough, practiced agriculture.  Instead, with fire for plow, rake, and ax, they harvested the native flora and hunted the resident fauna.  Fire use was most intense and the fires smallest near settlements, particularly abundant in grasslands, oak savannas, or ecotones of grass and chaparral, precisely those sites most amenable to anthropogenic burning.  Some sites burned annually; others, as needed.  Probably the most frequented mountains had their slopes dappled with chaparral and grass, the signature of an anthropogenic economy.

Colonizing Spaniards arrived in the eighteenth century, and found the native fire regime not to their liking...

[After the American acquisition and the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, programs] to control fire and grazing promptly appeared...To the attrition of fire that accompanied the disintegration of aboriginal and Hispanic society, the new colonists promoted active fire suppression...

Active suppression changed all this [the old pattern of smaller fires], much as levees and channelizing could eliminate nuisance floods but lead to more frequent large floods.  Fire control could, by deferment, contain the wildfire menace for several decades...

Not everyone accepted fire control as necessary or practical.  No less a figure than William Mulholland, architect of the Los Angeles water system, refused to send men to battle fires that raged in the mountains in 1908 and again in 1919.  Big fires, he insisted, were "beyond the power of man to stop".  Those big fires were dangerous, and putting them out was, over the long term, no less dangerous.  It was better, Mulholland insisted, to "have a fire every year" that burned off a small plot than to wait several years "and have a big one denuding the whole watershed at once"...The greatest check on unrestricted fire exclusion, however, was simply the lack of tools, men, and money.  That began to change during the New Deal, and the sense of limits--limits of any kind--appeared to vanish completely with World War II.


10.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

We just don't have a prayer
Would our species benefit if organised religions were dispensed with?

The opportunity cost of participating in religion isn't often taken into account. On a personal level, it is half a century since I was able to dispense with churchgoing at the age of 15. At a conservative two hours per week, this works out at more than 5,000 hours that I have been able to devote to other activities such as reading more, listening to more music and playing more sport. I regard myself as better educated and fitter as a result, while maintaining peace of mind hasn't been an issue.
John Ansell, Thame, UK

• No such luck because then another billion maniacs would pester us to believe in their disorganised ones. Better the devil you know!
Dick Hedges, Nairobi, Kenya

• We wouldn't have a prayer.
Jim Dewar, Gosford, NSW, Australia

• No sin tax? You gotta love that.
James Carroll, Geneva, Switzerland

• Dispensing with dispensations would bring more humanism for humans.
David Tucker, Halle, Germany

Any answers?

If brevity is the soul of wit, what is longevity?

Peter Vaughan, St Senoch, France

In the stories of old, why are witches always wicked, while wizards are thoroughly decent chaps?
David Bye, Kosd, Hungary