Tuesday 13 April 2010


I know, the blog pages are now arriving in quick succession, but this is due to the Bay Area’s spring weather conditions. This is the third morning with rain, keeping me in my humble studio with little else to do but to address you with my scribblings. In fact, weren’t it for this “labour of love” I would feel pretty depressed by now. But the weather will soon improve, probably even before I may manage to place a post about the rainy streets of Berkeley.

Now back to Sunol! You may recall that “serpentine” was the last topic before we stopped. Soon after its discovery, and after yet half an hour’s climbing, I happened on a group of fellow wanderers, all of them but one further ahead on the mountain. I soon caught up with the lingering gentleman, of mature age, who proved to be an entertaining companion for a while’s steady ascent. His pre-name was Harry, but his family name I first mistook to be the one of you know who (or, rather, the one who came to grips with “you know who”). He explained to me that he was on a hike every Thursday within a fellowship of wanderers from Cupertino. These hikes had originally been organised by his College and accompanied by a guide. The group was still continuing despite the College having dissolved the original arrangement long time ago. This gave me the opportunity to tell him my often told story about the “Medium Term Planning Conference for Europe” who started out as an official OECD Committee, but just continued on after the OECD had abolished it.

Not to be bested, Harry decided to share his hard gained experience and wisdom as concerns the origins of the present financial crisis. In his view, the ultimate roots of that disaster were to be found in the period immediately following WWII. As his tale gradually advanced in time and we continued climbing the slopes, we soon arrived at a crossing of the paths, were he was supposed to walk downwards to the right and myself to continue upwards to the left. His companions, barely glimpsed from afar, were eagerly awaiting his catching up, so to my dismay he never arrived at the events more directly occasioning the crisis. His intimate knowledge will never be fully revealed to me, to my regret. Instead he spurted after his friends and soon disappeared in the midday haze.

Harry, if you read this, you are cordially invited to place a comment to this post, letting us benefit from your views on our encounter and informing us about the remainder of your hike.

Alone again, I continued the ascent to the eagerly awaited CERRO ESTE summit, the median target of my roundtrip. The hardy labour was oftentimes interrupted by interesting scenery. Once, when directing the camera towards a beautiful solitary oak far below my path I suddenly saw that I was not the only one admiring the scenery. A lonely COYOTE looked as longingly towards the far off hills as I did towards him. A peaceful meeting of the minds indeed!

But this was not all; a small distance further up the slope, two hardy hikers had their binoculars up, gazing intensively in the opposite direction. I tried to draw their attention to the solitary predator, but they cordially declined my offer to gaze thither, preferring to observe a diminutive bird they assured me was extremely rare, but that I did not find that exhilarating.

So on I went on with my exercise for another half hour’s steady climbing (you may have noticed that the half hours accumulate; they may soon become a figure of speech!). Suddenly I encountered a big earth mound in a circle, not unlike the foundation of iron age fortifications, with a small pond in the middle. Curious as I am, I went off the trodden path to investigate. Suddenly, I saw a movement in the grass, out went my camera and “clapunck!” it sounded, before I even glimpsed the prey. Actually I never saw it clearly, since the camera’s shutter noise had already scared it off. However, on the camera’s back screen I could gather that I had fired at a GROUND SQUIRREL, pointing its nose at the intruder. Thus, the “iron age fort” turned out to be a colony of these at the same time curious and evasive creatures!

By then the summit beckoned, barely half an hour’s walk ahead. I hastened on, since it was already way past noon, and my stomach started to crumble. Soon I was standing on the top of a ridge that extended far from South to North and granted me a comprehensive vista of the Wilderness. California is known for its “Golden Hills”, but after the heavy rains earlier in spring the hills looked much more like alpine meadows, even if the odd oak belied that analogy. I sat down on a conveniently placed bench and said to myself that I could easily envisage the meadows full of grazing cattle, as is common in the heights back home in Austria.

Hardly had I finished the thought that what looked like a raging bull came charging full speed towards me. Only about 10 meters before contact the animal slowed down and I discovered that it was a calf after all and only curious about my presence. Soon he was joined by a heard of youngsters anxiously ogling me as if I intruded on their home turf. Undisturbed I reached into my rucksack, only to discover that I had forgotten my sandwiches back home! This was no laughing matter! After ingesting two apples and all the water I was glad to have packed in the morning, I had no other choice but to shorten the trip from foreseen seven hours down to five and take the shortest route back down to the car.

Soon I was back in the oaken ranges, taking pictures on the run, and arrived towards the end of the trip at a lovely little brook by the name of Indian Joe Creek. From then on, the descent went in lovely shadow, crisscrossing the creek on and on again until it merged with the Alameda and I was back at the car.

I hope I haven’t tired you unduly with this lengthy account; I could not bring myself to make it shorter, excited as I was by that eventful walk in nature totally immersed in lovely green, a color hitherto unseen in the Bay Area regional parks during my earlier visits some 35 years ago.


Harry Pottol said...

If you look toward the bottom of the map of Sunol Wilderness, near the east boundary of the place, you can find a trail running north marked " 'W' Tree Rock scramble." I got a very quick cell phone picture of the source of this name. At the time, I expected that you might be interested. Noting now that you are briefly in California, I assume you have made your one visit to SRW.

Thank you for the pictures of me. We appreciate them, and I will keep the picture of you. My apologies for not framing it better. My excuses were the matter of the strange camera, and the fact that my party was far ahead. You can tell people that you were 1200 feet (367 m) above the parking lot. If you got on to Eagle View, it is about 200 feet (60 m) higher.

And where are you now?

Emil Ems said...

What a pleasant surprise to hear from you again, Harry! Thank you for your kind remarks. In fact, I will be staying here in Berkeley until end of May and may well be returning to SRW (Sunol Regional Wilderness) towards the end of my stay, to see for myself what is meant by "The Golden Hills of California". I may even make it to the tree you so courtiously photographed for me.

As to the picture you took of me, it was perfect material for post processing. There was nothing wrong with the framing that a little cropping in Photoshop could not cure. You can see the result here as the title picture of the post.

Since you are out on hiking trips with your group every Thursday, I believe, may I ask you whether it would be possible to join you in one of those? I am sure you will be visiting places unknown to me and would have many interesting facts to tell me along such a hike.

Lars Werin said...

Emil, I liked very much reading about your adventures on the heights that were not very wuthering, as it was sunny and nice weather. (Nobody outside Yorkshire, England, knows what is exactly meant by “wuthering”.) I knew of course that you have a number of talents and skills, but now I realize that there are two skills which, hitherto, have been hidden to me. (1) Obviously, you are a very good hiker. You walk amazingly long distances, many of them up-hill to say the least. How long was the Wuthering Heights trip for instance? I don’t accept pedometer figures, because these devices tend to register two steps for each actual step. You have a GPS-based meter I hope. (2) You are a very good naturalist, in the Linneaen, or why not Darwinian tradition. By the way, isn’t ground squirrel the same thing as a chipmunk? With some good luck, you could see chipmunks in the forests around Boston.

All this leads to a bigger question. The Bay area obviously has very good walking grounds, close to the built-up areas. Now, there is something called “Nationalstadsparken” (City National Park) in Stockholm, which people (rightly) are very proud of, and which they claim to be unique, the only thing of that kind in the world. I say this partly to annoy our mutual friend Richard in Stockholm. Richard, as you know, is Chairperson of the Board for “Nationalstadsparken”. But there is San Francisco/Berkeley, there is Vienna with its Wienerwald, London with Richmond Park/Wimbledon Common and Hampstead Heath, Copenhagen with Dyrehaven, not to mention Hong Kong where you are always close to hilly forests and lots of animals (among them, regrettably, snakes). I have discussed this with Richard who seemed to agree with me to some extent — A little question: I know you are a happy owner of a forest in Austria. Is it, by any chance, the Wienerwald itself?

Emil Ems said...

Lars is altogether too kind with his compliments, which I have far from earned. But I promise that I will do my best to live up to them.

It is true that I like to walk and a good walk of 7 hours upphill and downhill does wonders to my state of well being. This was what I had planned to do in Sunol, by laying out a roundtrip over the heights throughout a major part of the area. The distance foreseen was not that enormous, since I am a leisurely stroller rather than a stern jogger. Unfortunately I had forgotten to bring food, the only sustenance found in the rucksack being 1 apple and 1 liter of water. So I was forced to shorten the hike down to 5 hours and then to rush the car to the nearest village (Pleasanton) with an unfortunately not so pleasant eating place.

The ground squirrel is vaguely related to the chipmunk, but is considered a separate animal group. It has more in common with the marmots and the groundhogs. It is easy to recognize that family of squirrel since it can, and often does, in contrast to the chipmunk, rise on its hind legs, to survey its surroundings.

I hope Richard will also chime in here with HIS views on City National Parks. What do you say, Richard?

Finally on forests: The Wienerwald is in fact a large semi-mountainous area, stretching far to the South-East of Vienna, constituting the last stretch of the immense Alpine range. But it is true that some fine fingers reach almost into the city, making this part of the forest easily accessible by tramway. I wish my family were the owner of all this, thank you for suggesting it, Lars. But, alas, we inherited from our parents only a minimal stretch of forest, essentially only a grove, which now belongs to one of my brothers.

This leads me to think about a real forest-owner, and an ominous one at that. I am thinking about no other than Jörg Haider, who inherited, from his "Wahlonkel", an enormous mountainous region by the name of "Bärenthal". This land had been "bought" from a Jewish family at a price of some 1 million dollars (in present value) in 1941, but is considered to be worth about 15 million.

Richard Murray said...

Lars and Emil,
Challenged by Lars I want to comment on our claim in Stockholm to have the world's first national city park (there has been some debate over the term "city", should it be "urban" instead - like in "urban ecology", but it is settled by now by the Country governor Per Unckel - go to the site www.nationalstadsparken.se to see for yourself).
The legal status of what is now named The Roylal National City Park is special, since it is not a national park. Why? Because it contains a lot of roads and buildings in addition to parks, lakes and wild nature. It is special and not as tight as the legislation for a national park out in the wilderness or "nature reserve". Therefore NGOs like the Ekoparken Association, of which I am the president, constantly have to fight against developments and other forms of intrusion, like tearing down the last reamaining structure from the Functionalist Stockholm Exhibition of 1930.
Now to Lars´ challenge: there are lots of other cities in the world that have similar parks, so Stockholm is not unique. There is a recently published book titled LARGE PARKS, which I possess but cannot find at the moment. It contains accounts of other big parks - in or in close proximity of a big city. That is what counts. The Royal National City Park in Stockholm streches like a wedge all the way to the very hub of the metorpolitan area, the Old Town. However, in that book, there is no mentioning of it, despite the fact that it is by far larger than all the ones mentioned in the book - mostly centered on the US. I haven't checked the exact location of the parks mentioned in the book. There is one, in Madrid - stretches from the Royal Palace westward, that is of a similar size as that in Stockholm - 27 sqkm.
I have for long planned an international conference on the theme Large Parks in metropolitan areas and have a list of a dozen that I would like to have demonstrated, the idea being to point to the fact how valuable they are for recreation and health of the population, for climate and biodiversity. Among the candidates I have Bygdöy, Dyrehaven, Richmond Park, Duisburg Nord, Amsterdamse Bos, Munich English park,Kronberg (Hannover), Lisbon (I dont' know the name of the area northwest of the city), Kolmenskoje (Moscow),Table Mountain (Cape Town), Mount Vernon, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Leipzig and some other places. I am happy to receive more suggestions and will pick up on those that Lars mentions.

Emil Ems said...

Dear Richard and Lars,

I am impressed by the richness of experience and sophistication that shines through your comments on city parks. I think they will strike a note of sympathy with any readers from the Bay Area who happen to read them. Especially the "Berkeleyites" entertain a keen interest in environmental issues and the "City Park" called "Tilden" with its some 2000 acres surpasses the city itself in size. Granted that Berkeley is not a large city (only some 100000 inhabitants) but the wildness and landscape variety of the park may merit your attention, Richard! I sincerely hope that some "Bayans" will care to join in on this discussion

Akiko Kikuno said...

I forgot to tell you about your sunol pictures. Sunol is in the area of Edward's previous house. I now remember the area. Your pictures are so beautiful. I am surprised that you saw a coyote.