Wednesday, November 30, 2011

San Diego’s Mission Valley where I live was formed over millions of years by erosion. Geologists can read the record of the Valley’s development by studying the layers of rocks rearranged by water rushing down from mountains. I like to imagine how the place might have looked when saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths, and mammoths roamed the area. We don’t know much about the first people to reach the valley around 20,000 years ago.

A relatively short time ago in geologic time, Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542. Settlement by Europeans didn’t begin until Sebastian Vizcaino arrived in 1602 with his flagship “San Diego.” He and the Catholic Fathers who came with him named the place San Diego de Alcala. Since prehistoric times the geography of the valley hasn’t changed much except for one small dam built at the east end of the valley around 1800 and a network of levies and dikes built to control the tidal flow from the Pacific and the river flowing down from the mountains. While the basic lay of the land hasn’t changed much in the past two hundred years, the look of it is dramatically different from the scene even fifty years ago. Many San Diego Old Timers remember when the valley was a sleepy stretch of dairy farms all the way back to El Cajon. Now the valley is crowded with shopping centers, freeways, and condominium complexes... with emphasis on complex.

I found my picture for today as I wandered around a hillside rising up from the valley floor. I wondered what the oracles of Delphi would have thought about some holes in the hillside, especially one that has a large crystal fixed between two layers of dirt. I’ve wandered all over the valley and the hillsides, and I don’t remember having seen crystals before this morning. The one I saw today is large... maybe a foot-and-a-half long, and I could only guess at the the size of the part buried in the dirt. It’s a mystery... and I like a mystery. I’ll go back to check on it every now-and-then. In the meantime I’m going to ask somebody who would know or perhaps I’ll go to the library to find out what causes crystals to form. If a crystal like the one I saw today had been found in a hole anywhere on Mount Parnassus that towers above Delphi, the ancient Greeks would have found an explanation for it in their mythology. They were understandably very cautious, even reverent, around holes in the ground. The Underworld, ruled over by the god Hades, was a place to be avoided as long as possible; and even a small dark pit in the earth might be a dangerous opening into the place where dwelled the spirits of those who had passed into the gloom of death.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American Landscape with Rabbits...

An hour before sundown the Balboa Park landscape, while smack in the middle of urban sprawl, looks for all the world like safari country. The wild animals here aren’t fierce. I got close enough to get pictures of rabbits before they scampered into the underbrush. There are coyotes here, too; so the rabbits have more to worry about than a guy with a camera.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I’ve been studying a year old report from astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory describing how they have discovered what is believed to be the birth of a black hole. First, I should acknowledge that I don’t know what I am talking about... that although I am fascinated by the subject, I am woefully ignorant of the science behind the report. A new book, which I will buy, is being published this week.

The object, if a black hole can be thought of as an object, is a remnant of a supernova in the galaxy M100 which is approximately 50 million light years from Earth. Even though the light from the supernova took 50 million light years to reach the observatory, astronomers are seeing the black hole when it was just thirty years old. I can only just begin to understand what this means by imagining that a picture of a baby sent through space for 100 years or 50 millions years would still be a picture of a baby. The image in the picture wouldn’t have grown old in the trip; so although the supernova which formed the black hole which the astronomers are seeing actually happened 50 millions years ago, the pictures they are receiving now shows what was happening when it was 30 years old.

What fascinates me about this story is that it says something terrifying and beautiful about the universe... perhaps about everything that exists or has existed, leaving us still to ponder what existed before the Big Bang... and how it began... and how it will end. On one hand astronomical evidence implies a beautiful order in the universe, and also that same evidence is proof of terrible catastrophes like supernova suddenly exploding and ejecting outward it’s mass.

The trick is to learn to appreciate the beauty in both order and chaos. Because I am learning to look closely, to see what is there to be seen, I have, perhaps perversely, found tree bark to be beautiful in its randomness, it’s seeming disorder. Bark is obviously necessary protection and conduit of nutrients for the living tree. On the other hand, the random change to its appearance fascinates me. The kaleidoscopic variations on the different varieties of eucalyptus trees in the cycles of seasons are examples of randomness and order together making beauty. The order and randomness are more enigmatic in oak trees, but both are there nonetheless.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I wandered around "D" Street, the main drag in Marysville and found that the town has changed. When I found the building (with the blue awning in the first picture)where I had a job in a J. J. Newberry five and dime store, I caught a glimpse of myself in the store window and was reminded that Marysville isn't the only thing that has changed in the sixty years since I worked there. The Newberry Stores all over America went out of business twenty or thirty years ago... and, NO, that mural isn't what Marysville looked like when I was a boy. That was what Marysville looked like about the time my Grandfather Abraham Miles was born in Alabama in 1866.

Don't believe it altogether when someone tells you that you can't go home again. I did... and it felt very good. The Feather River near where I lived when I was a teenager was a good place to begin to roam and dream of far away places. I taught for ten years in the high school a couple of miles from where I took these pictures... and then I did go out to see what things were really like in the big, outside world... and never really came back... except to visit.

The GOOGLE BLOG system insists that this BLOG entry is for Sunday, November 27; actually, the experience and the photographs happened two days ago. About three days of BLOG entries will all be labeled November 27. WE ARE BACK HOME AGAIN, so I'll get things back in order starting tomorrow.
The Bok Kai Temple was built in 1854 by the Chinese who were among the first immigrants to work the gold fields. They built this temple in Marysville on the banks of the Yuba River. Here they worshiped Bok Kai, the god of water, who had the power to control the rains. I had never before this week found the temple open. On the day I was there, a woman clean in the temple allowed me to come inside to look around and take pictures. Everything was familiar. The temple is very much like those I saw every day when I lived in Singapore.

I was invited to take pictures of the old kitchen, not used for decades, in the back of the altar area of Bok Kai Temple. I was transported to another time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Sacramento River at Knight’s Landing rounds the bend where commerce once demanded a draw bridge, but now the activity here is mostly small fishing boats. When I was a boy my Dad caught a big sturgeon near the bridge here. It was a magnificent big fish. I remember feeling a bit of sadness that it had been yanked out of the safety of the river.

Downriver from this village the Feather River flows into the Sacramento River twenty miles upstream from the City of Sacramento where the American River adds its bulk. Farther downstream the Sacramento joins the San Joaquin. The San Joaquin flows out into San Francisco Bay which empties out into the Pacific Ocean. Once when I was a young man, Gary Gasser and I put a two-person kayak into the river a hundred miles upstream at Red Bluff and paddled down to this place. That was at least fifty years ago.

The river’s main job now is not to carry freight or passengers but to deliver water from the snow melt of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to thirsty agricultural land and dozens of towns and cities.

Not Greece... but Rocklin, California... Connie's and Claude's back yard.

Thanksgiving, 2011... with family.