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Stateside With Rosalea: The Bay

Daylight saving begins today so I shall spare you, dear reader, any further brooding ruminations on the state of the world and point out instead that it's Cherry Blossom Festival time in San Francisco's Japantown. Not only that, but Herb Caen Day celebrations have been taking place all over town all week in honour of a newspaper columnist whose wit and wisdom pretty much defined how the world saw The City for 60 years until his death five years ago. Friday's opening day game of the baseball season for the SF Giants even featured a video tribute to Caen.

Anybody would think he was a sports columnist, but he wasn't. A lot of people think he was a gossip columnist, but he wasn't that either. In an interview with Fred Dodsworth of the San Francisco 'Examiner' about 18 months ago, Caen's son said that the titbits of news about people in The City were the least important thing in his father's columns. Herb Caen just wrote about whatever caught his attention - spring training, travel, celebrities - but also took his social responsibility as a reporter seriously, and, above all, wrote "the world's longest serialized story" - a love story for his City.

Too puny to fill Caen's shoes, I will nonetheless try to keep your interest in my own serialized love story - with the whole Bay area! The cherry blossoms I saw yesterday weren't in Japantown, but in Sausalito nestled on the bay side of the Marin headland, where the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge is anchored. Sausilito is ritzy with miles of marinas and chintzy shops and hotels around the ferry terminal. A free shuttle bus, called Sally, takes you from the ferry terminal further afield to the chidren's discovery museum and the US Army Corps of Engineers SF Bay Model.

In contrast to yesterday's ferry ride in the warmth and sunshine, a month ago I was out on the water and turned back to see that Grizzly Peak - a hill above Berkeley in the East Bay - had a dusting of snow on it. It was the last weekend of winter, but snow down to 900 feet is unusual. I was out on a learning experience with a group of people interested in the geology of the bay, and will forever now hear the sound of waterfalls as I pass through Raccoon Strait between Angel Island and Tiburon.

The bay has only twice been inundated with water - the last time 125,000 years ago. In between those times, the water from the Sierra Nevada tumbled in a series of waterfalls from the present-day Carquinez Strait into San Pablo Bay, down behind Angel Island, and then over the edge of a 200-ft drop at the Golden Gate. In other words, the Bay of San Francisco - and San Pablo Bay at its northeastern end, leading through the Carquinez Strait into Suisun Bay and the delta area - is a drowned river system. It is the drainage basin for 40 percent of California via the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers coming down off the Sierra Nevada. Shipping can navigate 58 miles inland to Stockton in the San Joaquin Valley to pick up the horticultural produce that is grown there.

But of course it is the Pacific Ocean - its edge once 20 miles west of where it is now - that gives San Francisco its defining characteristic, the fog. The fog reaches miles inland to the valleys sometimes, or just hugs the coast at others. We had a taste of both last week in this four-week miscellany of weather. Fog is usually an early- to mid-summer phenomenon; the hot bright days associated with a California summer are not experienced here until late September and October. Or two weeks ago, when temps were 20 degrees F. above the average. This weekend, rain was predicted but the storm fronts have weakened and delivered sunny clear days instead. Great baseball weather!

I missed the opening day on Friday - first pitch was at 1 in the afternoon and by the time I got there from work the game was sold out. On a weekday? Obviously I have a lot to learn about baseball! But I had a consolation prize. As I waited for the lightrail train outside PacBell Stadium, listening to the roar of the crowd, I read this quotation on a brass plaque embedded in the platform:

"Within two miles of the Pacific rounding this long bay, sheening the light for miles inland, floating its fog through redwood rifts and over strawberry and artichoke fields, its bottomless mind returning always to the same rocks, the same cliffs, with ever-changing words, always the same language - this is where I live now."

It's from 'An Atlas of the Difficult World', by Adrienne Rich.

Lea Barker
Sunday April 7, 2002

If you're interested in the columnist who invented the word 'beatnik' go to:

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