Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

The creek, as it leaves


Strawberry Creek by Gilman Hall facing East
: photo by Coro, 13 January 2009

At the weekend, walking by night as per custom across the lower western stretches of the campus, through that small familiar patch of vernal landscape which is all that remains of natural habitat amid the wasteland of big recently-constructed science buildings and labs, one noted the presence of uniformed personnel with large flashlights, and then the following night, there was a strong sharp unpleasant industrial odour in the air, and ribbands of yellow tape by the wayside, and ominous signs posted along the tree-lined bed of Strawberry Creek warning:




Strawberry Creek coming out of the culvert from UC Berkeley: photo by Coro, 2009

A diesel fuel tank used to store fuel to power an emergency generator in Stanley Hall had overflowed as fuel was being transferred from a larger nearby storage tank. A sump pump then discharged the overflow into the creek. Result: creek clogged with slick, acrid sheen of diesel oil. The signposting might as well have said:



1700 gallons of diesel fuel had been released.

Four days after the spill, the creek still stinks and remains off-limits to humans, and the university has continued to maintain a hush-hush stance on how and why the accident occurred, simply citing "equipment failure".

So this benighted observer enquired of a physicist friend, who is conversant with the doings at Stanley Hall.

And learned that bio-engineering, nanotechnology and, in particular, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging technologies (all of course largely financed by government funding) are the specialities of the house.

What do you suppose was the "equipment" that "failed", the question was asked.

"Well, the emergency generator is probably intended as a backup for cooling the helium in the big nuclear resonance spectrometer," the friend said. "The helium has to be kept around two degrees Kelvin. If it gets too hot...."

"The whole joint blows up?"

"Yes, that's what would happen."

So for any plants, birds, fish that may happen to be killed off by that goopy mass of diesel gunk, as it makes its way from the creek to the Berkeley marina and thence into the Bay, there is always the consolation of knowing that the ecological violation was suffered for a Noble Cause: ensuring that come what may, those whopping research grants will keep flowing, and the recipients of all that Dark Money will remain safe and happy.


Strawberry Creek as it leaves the park: photo by Coro, 2009

We’re alone my shadow and me
You’re alone with your shadow too
The first day and the last day the same
First song same as last song

The stream weeps passing under concrete
Habitual deer have retreated
The earth is covered with vehicles
Meant to secure the unknown against us

The caged bird said this place is very pretty
Excellent for lunch fine for sleeping
But if I might ask one thing more
How come nobody thought to put in a door

Booms in place in the creek at Strawberry Creek Park in west Berkeley on Monday morning at around 11:30 am: photo by Tracey Taylor/Berkeleyside, 12 December 2011

Sheen of diesel fuel on the surface of Strawberry Creek: photo by Tracey Taylor/Berkeleyside, 12 December 2011


ACravan said...

I'm glad you posted both of these. They belong together. The poem is terrfic. This morning I spent between 5:30 am and 6:30 am reviewing a video presentation about Substance Abuse In The Legal Profession as part of my continuing legal education requirements. I'm sure the presenter had his heart in sort of the right place, but the presentation (and presenter) were creepy and unsettling. Between that and this, I feel positively toxic. All the photos are terrific. The title also. Curtis

TC said...


Thanks, and yes, they were meant as a pair.

So damned sad, this.

That last wee bucolic creekbed patch served as a sort of stand-in Lake Country in moments of dire nature-want.

Twas there I met the original of this fellow -- who, in the present turning of events, now comes off, more and more, smelling like a rose.

Formerly there was a second lovely bucolic patch at the West end of the campus, a grove of some ninety varieties of trees, brought in and planted there at the turn of the last-century-but-one, back when people actually cared about growing noninvestments.

In the late Eighties the entire grove was ripped out to build a giant Animal Testing Facility. Five storeys underground, even now as we speak, monkeys and mice, rats and perhaps even dogs and cats have their scalps stripped back, electrodes implanted, all for the advance of ... was it mankind? Or was it the acquisition of Yet More Government Funding?

The University that without much bother survived the minor ripple of Gulf Spill negative-PR fallout re. its $500 K "research"-collusion receipt from BP, will have no trouble playing down this little "incident".

Dead Aquatic Life Forms Don't Talk -- was that a Mickey Spillane/William Burroughs collaboration?

TC said...

Wait, did I say $500 K? How very frugal of me, on others' behalf. Actually the figure was $500 m.

Ed Baker said...

they'll just add bleach/chlorine and a tad of arsenic
to this stream-water
send it through their water-delivery system

pipe it into homes and elementary school water fountains
and? we'll all build up our immune systems
to it !

we got Morons running things... &
they're the Intelligent Ones..... Drones making Drones

Anonymous said...

I weep w/ that stream! - though perhaps punctuated more by cursing than pebbles. I had no idea this had occurred, head buried in other messes & outrages. Innumerable, they. Oases few, and fewer each day.

Ed Baker said...

not to "beat a dead" Peking Duck, however
not being one to de:tour this out of ted Enslin's
1975 SYTHESIS, page 212:

There is some
a beauty
in dysfunction,
and a trouble.
That is is disease
which carries beauty.
Health dulls -
a man with little heat.
One time these things
were other.
Not in our time.
Nor will we see sane man again.
The last
is in the future.
We will not go there.
To cure/
/or to be cured
The curare.

the converse of the proposition:
remove the cause, and
the effect cures, -
is not true.' (this line in italics)

(& the poem continues for approx. another 200 pages)



Yuck! Prospero's "approaching tide/ Will [NOT] shortly fill the reasonable shore,/ That now lies foul and muddy" -- but alas, not merely "muddy," "diesel-
contaminated -- "a diesel mass of goopy gunk." Planet earth evermore an endangered species. . . . Thanks for keeping us posted on these latest developments in the the world that the humans continue to ravage (and for those lovely mandarins, with their "tuft of jungle feathers . . . animal eye". . .


light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, gibbous moon next to branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

see in compositions between
1 and 1, evidence for

that which is called, light
in what form, is that

bright orange of sun rising above ridge,
moon still in pale blue sky opposite it

. said...

Earlier this week I heard on the radio, someone describe the sight of oil in a puddle as a dying rainbow - simply too high a price to pay for a pot of gold.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Once there was a river nearby which flowed underneath an ancient bridge (described by Pausanias) where boys would swim and women gather to wash clothes in the not-so-distant past. End of fairy tale.

TC said...

The official silence on the causes of and playing-down of the effects of the diesel spill that has polluted stream and glade on the campus have failed to prevent at least one respecter of that formerly sacred precinct from sneaking through the warning notices and barriers and capturing the present state of Strawberry Creek on video. You can see the slimy scum pooling at the surface and along the banks. The ugly hunks of white plastic floating in the turbid, industrial-crud-clogged stream are absorbent materials meant to soak up the diesel. Too little, too late. All those black dots floating in the repulsive surface gunk were once living organisms.

Strawberry Creek, Wednesday 14 December 2011, after 1700 gallon diesel spill from Stanley Hall

I am not a scientist and I am not funded by government grants.

But I have now talked to a number of people who know about these things, and learned that the purpose of the emergency generator for which the diesel fuel was to be stored has the specific purpose of ensuring that, in the event of electrical failure, the giant magnetic superconductor, which is the jewel in the crown of the empire of money that is Stanley Hall, contains helium, which must be cryogenically maintained at extremely low temperatures, approx minus 276 degrees Celsius. This would translate into approx two degrees Kelvin. That is barely above the hypothetical absolute zero. Were the helium to be allowed to suddenly heat up to, say, four degrees Kelvin, the result, I am told, might well be... no more superconductor, no more Stanley Hall, no more creek, no more campus, no more Berkeley.

If you were a dead water-strider, choked in man-made filth in what you had taken to be your natural environment, you would probably not have been interested in the fascinating applications of NMR technology. If you are an ordinary human, you probably couldn't care less. If you are a nuclear biotech engineer on the government take, you're probably just as happy that the passersby who are wondering why the creek stinks so awfully and is out of bounds to nature-lovers won't ever know.

It's just that... it was once such a pleasant little island amid that sea of busy academic enterprise.

I am not William Wordsworth but have been occasionally accused by the late canon formation engineers of lyric quietism or quietude or whatever the patronising categorical dismissal term may have been. Strawberry Creek and its sister creeks have provided pleasant reflective moments over the years. The bit of lyric quietude below was composed alongside one of those. (It is pictured in the lower photo.) The title curiously fits the moment.

Up the Creek

Julia said...

(Había dejado un comentario en este post cuando lo publicaste... Mi conexión a internet funciona muy mal últimamente. Ya no recuerdo bien qué decía en aquel comentario. Creo que algo como: "gracias por dejarme conocer Strawberry Crerek" y "me sigue dando envidia dar clases en un lugar así". Ojalá cuiden mejor ese lugar maravilloso)

TC said...


Sí, fue junto a este arroyo burbujeante que me enseñó una vez las clases nocturnas.

Pero eso fue un cuarto de siglo en el pasado, y muchas cosas han cambiado desde aquellos días.

Soy más viejo ... pero más sabio, no.

Esta gran universidad se ha convertido en una fábrica de la "ciencia", los grandes negocios y el dinero.

Las pobres criaturas que se atreven a tratar de vivir en su proximidad debe tener cuidado.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

This just wrenches the heart ... what little that is left is treated so terribly. As an urban dweller with a city that is also run by institutions - University of Pittsburgh and UPMC - this story is all too familiar. They can never be held in account because they own the city - the politicians, the businesses, the government, the contracts, working under shadowy provisions that allow non-profit status for multi-gazillion dollar organizations.

And, Tom, I can not get the lovely little water strider out of my brain.

The last line of your poem says it all. Such a great sadness

TC said...


"...They own the city..."

Indeed and alas, all too true.

And the cage keeps shrinking, and every day the dream of that door dwindles, until it's but a distant memory.