Power Touring San Leandro, CA #senseSL

As part of the Sensing Cityscapes Seminar at UC Berkeley, a group of architecture, art, geography, and anthropology students (myself one of them) meandered through each council district of the City of San Leandro.

These images from District 5 illustrate a brief exploration of the landscape, people, and sensory potential of the northeastern edge of the city.

See our routes and selected images geo-located here.

Looking Down

I inadvertently came to San Leandro directly from the ophthalmologist and so saw much of the district through sun-sensitive dilated eyes. Looking down is a habit of the archaeologist, but the day was especially bright and so looking down became even more appealing.

These concrete footprints appeared all over District 5. Traces of  past pedestrian activity that was at 4pm on a Thursday.

These concrete footprints appeared all over District 5. Traces of past pedestrian activity that was at 4pm on a Thursday.

Textured and stamped driveway en route to Zocolo Cafe

Textured and stamped driveway en route to Zocolo Cafe.

Shadows cast by wooden cut outs on the Elementary School fence

Shadows cast by wooden cut outs on the Elementary School fence. Part of the school yard is open to the public as a park. A friendly “local” who lives across the street mentioned there had been so problems with teens drinking after hours at a particular picnic table within the fence line of the school.

 

It's very rare to see an anthropologist immortalized in brass. This quote passes underfoot as you enter the Zocolo Cafe.

It’s very rare to see an anthropologist immortalized in brass. This quote passes underfoot as you enter the Zocolo Cafe. The cafe houses a range of freelancers and students in the afternoon and the soundtrack is of The Shins “Shoots and Ladders” variety.

Invisible infrastructure made visible.

Invisible infrastructure made visible.

Looking Up

The city is sensing you.

Red light camera on Davis Street

Red light camera on Davis Street

Parking meter trying to communicate a message ("oJou"? Short for young lady in Japanese?)

Parking meter trying to communicate a message (“oJou”? Short for young lady in Japanese?)

Police station button

Police station button

Police station self portrait. When we talked to an officer behind the main desk she told us there were no "neighborhoods to avoid" because of civic policies that prevent felons from living within city limits.

Police station self portrait. When we talked to an officer behind the main desk she told us there were no “neighborhoods to avoid” because of civic policies that prevent felons from living within city limits.

This building, the California Conservatory Theater, appears to be locked, underconstruction, and part of the City Hall and police station complex.

This building, the California Conservatory Theater, appears to be locked, underconstruction, and part of the City Hall and police station complex.

Signs

 

IMG_0439 IMG_0453 IMG_0463 IMG_0477 IMG_0493

 

Dahlia Sounds

Don’t Fence Me In

Coyote Fence in Abiquiu Plaza

Coyote Fence in Abiquiu Plaza

The sign said “Open Range Next 50 Miles.” To my left and right, as I sped North on CO-159 out of New Mexico, there were no fences.

A week before I had been in Vallecito, the high valley above Abiquiu, NM, with Vrigil and Isabel Trajillo, and David Lopez in the Trajillo’s ramshackle yet impeccably clean trailer. After sitting outside and watching two blue birds feed the chick they had safely stowed in an old blue enamel basin hung on a post, David took us inside and unfurled an oversized map of the Abiquiu land grant.

Virgil Trajillo and David Lopez explain the Abiquiu Landgrant in Vallecito, NM

Virgil Trajillo and David Lopez explain the Abiquiu Landgrant in Vallecito, NM

Lines on a map. Established in 1750 by the Spanish crown with descriptions of landforms. Translated by Anglo surveyors, obsessively tracing the straightest lines possible, marking them in reality with piles of stones, clean-cut tree stumps, and make-shift posts. Despite promises made in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that the land rights of Mexican (formerly Spanish) citizens would be upheld in the newly established southwestern American territories, these boundaries have had to be fiercely protected by the community of Abiquiu for over a hundred years. They are the sites of memory and define part of what it means to be and Abiquiceño.

Map showing block layout of Amache Internment Camp in Granada, CO

Map showing block layout of Amache Internment Camp in Granada, CO

And today I was walking lazy lines along block 8F of the Granada Relocation Center, also known as Amache, in Southeastern Colorado, which housed thousands of Japanese-American internees between 1942-1945. The perfect straight lines of the grid, aligned to the cardinal directions, evident now only in well worn roads and razed concrete foundation trace a past of confinement between boards and barbed wire, despite the endless horizon in the flat corner of this most mountainous of states.

Reconstructed guard tower looking over the southern side of Amache Internment Camp in Granada, CO

Reconstructed guard tower looking over the southern side of Amache Internment Camp in Granada, CO

The landscapes of both past and present, connected by common geography and sage brush, become clear in their moments of parsing out. They are made through the lines drawn over and across them, marking out use, ownership, and restriction.

The “open range” sign at the Colorado border struck me as poignant in light of these other, contested demarkations of space. Because, despite its proported openness, someone owns that range land (whether it be the US government or not) and before that the idea of a closed-range (the requisite opposite of openness) might not even have existed.

The open range is an impossibility.

Moons

[as promised] I.

… another one of those things I fear I will never be able to capture.

Take tonight, for example: the moon, technically a waxing crescent, rises late as summer becomes fall. But more accurately, a bright peel of the celestial citrus. And by that I mean the sideways grin of some Cheshire. So bright and full of mischief that its light reflects off the sky around it. As if the air were water. And come to think of it, this is the moon of Wynken’, Blynken’, and Nod. A wooden-shoe-of-a-moon. So big and sickled a thousand smallish fellows could certainly sail it.

You remember:

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night

Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—

Sailed on a river of crystal light

Into a sea of dew.

“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”

The old moon asked the three.

“We have come to fish for the herring-fish

That live in this beautiful sea;

Nets of silver and gold have we,”

Said Wynken,

Blynken,

And

Nod.

That thing rises big here. There is so much distance from the edge of the earth to the sky’s zenith that the orb bulges above the horizon. It shines so intensely you can see each ray of light emanating off it – like the ripples from a pebble dropped in a pond.

See, the sky IS the ocean. The air, water so deep and dark that you can sail for days and live only off the silver fish of stars and milky moonlight.

 

II.

A few days ago the moon was full. Full, it seemed, for days. It lit the night in a pale false dawn. It shone through my window and woke me up. Somehow. I walked out in its light and needed nothing else to see clearly every single stone on the hill, every single one of the densely packed bristles on the juniper trees. The mountains to the north and east tacked themselves on the horizon in front of a sky illuminated from all sides. A second day.

I walked in the light of the moon, and turned back only because the trail ran out.

It is a strange feeling being woken by the moon. And those bright nights I dreamt anxious dreams and woke to sunlight tired; as if I had kept walking, drawn by the blue-grey light and moon-shadows.

 

III.

The other night, when the moon was near-full but waning, the world lost one of its more terrestrial beauties — a person dear to me, and more importantly, the most dear to one of my closest friends.

The moon was there that night, hanging heavy behind a tattered veil of clouds. I watched the clouds move, carry their dark streaks across its face. Clear quartz moonlight eeked past. I worried that the moon might be engulfed by these clouds, rudely and brutally snuffed out, as if it were nothing more than the flame from a match in a wind-storm.

But as the clouds seem always to do here, they passed.

Dissipated.

Moved on.

In the light of that brave, triumphant moon — now high in the sky, smaller but brighter for its journey — I searched for that dear one. I may have found her. If not in the endless pool of the moon, then in the billions of stars in the milky way, or somewhere in a nebula too faint to see. Or better still, in the dark spaces between — the deep endlessness that only exists because of the light, its opposite.

Maybe some of the people out here are right. The earth is a bowl, holding us all. And the sky is a great basket, its stars the light shining through the gaps.

As for the moon … Well, I haven’t yet heard. But I think I’ll be inclined to believe it when I do.

In the pipeline

Aside

I make no real promises that these will actually be written,

I only hope they will

Animal remains in basketmaker pithouse (Cortez, CO)

From Here to There (in which we discuss landscape and the passage of time)

Moons (in which I recount when the moon cast shadows and I couldn’t sleep)

Badger House (in which we explore how a badger skull becomes the remains of a coyote, but ultimately might be half a dog)

Lines, Layers, and How to Tell the Difference (in which I discover the art of reading dirt and try not to get the plague)

K.B. Tours (in which we learn how to fry cinnamon rolls on a camp-stove and go glamping in the desert)

Public Places (in which we ponder the sound of ruins)

 

August

Rainbow over Mesa Verde

I’ve been at a loss as to how to describe things.

How to represent the moonrise through high clouds. Or on the other hand, a moonless night, with one of the dippers so large and low in the sky that it cannot possibly be real. Someone painted it there while I wasn’t looking.

It has seemed impossible to describe my morning walk down the hill to brush and wash. The way the tufted ears of three baby deer  catch the light as they prance away in mock fright. Instinct tells them to run but they don’t yet know why. These mornings have been warm and thick, no  crisp edge to cool the sun’s imminent rise. But they have been getting cooler and the sun now takes it’s sweet time to appear.

Barely a month since I arrived in Colorado and the season is already threatening to change. Enough time has passed, it seems, for me to mark it. Enough time for that, and to wish it would pass more slowly.

Last week was smokey. Fires from Washington and Oregon sent their haze on the winds to settle in over the front range. The light is different under the blanket of smoke and not being able to see Sleeping Ute Mountain, or Ship Rock, or the tilted cliffs of Mesa Verde was more unnerving than I realized. Missing monuments behind beige mist. The landscape pared down to empty horizons and monotone sky.

It took today, Monday, the first clear day in a dozen, to realize what was amiss. Finally, today, “the verde”  burned pale orange at sundown and the late afternoon sun made the sleeping ute blush and the mid-morning clouds rolled ominous but dry above us as we worked.

I have been at a loss as to how to describe things.

I think because there is so much here. So many.

So much sky. So much land. So much time.

So many colors. So many kinds of wind.

And beyond the quantity and the depth and the breadth … it is all strung together. The peaks and valleys placed in opposition and in concert. The rain fighting the burning rays of sun (which consequently produces rainbows). There are layers to this place and these times that resist description. At least for now.

And all these pieces, strung together as they are, magnificent as they can be in the right light, still live mundane lives. They are always there, sometimes more spectacular than others. Sometimes not worth describing at all. Until suddenly they are. And suddenly the words can be found.

The great Kiva at Chimney Rock

Seeing things

Image

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we see things. This isn’t very surprising given that excavation is all about noticing the difference between this dirt and that dirt.

That archaeology relies mostly on, and in some ways privileges, eyes and the translation a brain makes between light bouncing off a thing and knowing what a thing is, was only made clearer by my first week at Crow Canyon. As new interns we followed a group of kids ages 9-12 and their parents as they spent a week learning about Ancestral Puebloan archaeology.  We were constantly talking not only about what we were seeing (on a table full of artifacts, at Mesa Verde’s cliff palace, in an excavation unit) but what that told us about the past, laying out exactly the process of translation that our brain usually does in silence. This didn’t surprise me. This wasn’t anything new. This is what we do as archaeologists, as thinkers, as humans.

What did tickle me a bit was an exercise fellow intern Kevin cooked up to help the group identify ground stone. (Ground Stone n. a stone that has been worn down on one or more sides due to human activity like grinding maize.) Both parents and children were having a tough time seeing the smooth surface of these kinds of artifacts. So he did the simplest thing. “Close your eyes” he said, ” and feel them.” The distinction between ground and un-ground surfaces became immediately clear. Without the color and shape of the stones to distract you, without your eyes being the bossy older sister to your fingers, the only thing left was the feeling of texture. The difference between a smooth rock and a mano used in AD 600 to grind corn was immediately clear.

My favorite archeology-by-sense anecdote comes from my time in Egypt. Shocked at the amount of material on densely occupied egyptian sites, I’d cringe as we walked over fields thickly covered with pottery shards, the refuse of centuries cracking underfoot. Coming from the Southwest (where we need every clue we can get) I was unnerved by the apparent disregard for the banal, and mostly ignored layer of pottery that caps every site. Ignored quantitatively, but not useless. As you walk across a site covered with pottery, you HEAR it. And the sound a field of pottery makes – a clink or a clank to be exact – as it hits your shoe or another sherd, can tell you the time period of the site. Older pottery clanks, because the kilns weren’t as hot, and so the sherds are not as hard. Comparatively recent pottery clinks. Take for example the difference between the sound of a hand-made pottery mug to that of a china tea-cup. Et viola.

I was thinking of these things last week as Kyle (the other field intern) and I finally spent our first full day excavating a basket maker great kiva. Troweling (and occasionally using a WWII ditch digging tool or a pick) through the masonry wall fall of the structure, bringing up more and more charcoal from burnt ceiling beams, I struggled with feeling confident that I was seeing everything. That I wasn’t missing some change in soil color or texture that would mean I’d blown into the next strata. But the process of excavating is a process of noticing rather than seeing. Each trowel pass brings a flood of information, the hardness of the soil felt through the palm of your hand, the sound of trowel edge glancing off a rock, a puff of cool air as you break past the sunbaked crust into a damp patch from last night’s rain. How we interpret what we find through excavation is largely reduced to the visual – we see the line between one layer of occupation and the next, we map and draw and describe. But the experience that brings us to these conclusions and descriptions is a *total* experience. We smell, taste, hear, see, feel. What gets lost when we ignore most of these sensations? How could including these other interpretations, the more ephemeral and flighty of the bunch, change what we learn from archaeology? Is there a place for a description of the way the excavation unit sounded on a form?

FURTHER LISTENING:  forthcoming field recordings from the excavation of an archaic hearth in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico and Great Kiva in Cortez, Colorado

Hitting the Road

Left LA at about noon on Saturday and was almost immediately struck by that ever familiar feeling of lightness that comes with the beginning of a long journey. The few hours it took to leave the sprawl-lands and enter the alien landscape of desert and canyons flew by. Made not the least bit easier by the training afforded by my hour commutes of the past year — that road-zen that comes with knowing you’ll be in the seat for at least an hour, that concentrated glaze of the fast lane.

The flats of the Mojave were sweet, but leaving the state and hitting the red rocks of Arizona was somehow sweeter. Almost immediately after crossing the border I was engulfed by July’s monsoons. Chasing rainbows down highway 40 and opening my windows to let the damp air stream through.

From the first photograph I took of the landscape around me I was reminded why the southwest is the mecca of painters. There is no photograph that the average Jo like myself could take and truly capture the way the light plays off the mesas and sage-flats that line the highway. I’m reminded why the feeling of lightness comes — from being surrounded on all sides and above by the natural forms of rock and cloud. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a stoic beauty in both the shiny new truck stop and the abandoned diners along the way. Maybe the most captivating thing is the stretch of interstate somewhere out there that perfectly parallels old route 66. It’s undulating two-lane black top in stark contrast to the four-lane, super-flat, truck-ready ribbon of human progress.

And then flagstaff, and then motel, and then morning, all in a dense but pleasant whirl above the treeline. I had seen it all before, and it was familiar — the black top, the big sky clouds, the stripes on the road. And then Sunday’s drive rolled in to knock me out. Up north through Navajo country past the deep red canyons and smokestack rocks of Monument Valley, listening to hopi radio that gently transitions into a Texan talking about artichoke dip before becoming nationally syndicated country music programming.

I started Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” last night after arriving at Crow Canyon and I think he says it better:

“… the desert is a vast world, an oceanic world, as deep in its way and complex and various as the sea. Language makes a mighty loose net with which to go fishing for simple facts, when facts are infinite.”

I feel that fact here, where I hardly have words.

And bam, past four corners where I don’t have the cash to pay the fee to lay across three states at once. (And for all we know the real corner lie somewhere further out at the bottom of a canyon, and not conveniently 40 meters off the road.) AND THEN unceremoniously Colorado pops up AND THEN suddenly the town of Cortez a mash-up of small town I have yet to understand AND THEN finally … arrived. here. journey ended. lightness lifted, not replaced by heaviness, but a sense of purpose. here. arrived.

And here ends the travel-log, and begins the arrival-log. Tomorrow, a tour.

FURTHER LISTENING: A short prose piece I wrote and recorded in 2010ish called “Another Road Story” inspired by the many road-trips that preceded this one.

https://docs.google.com/open?id=0ByfjxEdPINVJRUU1b0ZQbHNLSVk