Tuesday, December 17, 2013

LANDSCAPE STUDY #2: levees of Stockton

Stockton 12.7.13 at the levees of the Calaveras River
between El Dorado and West Streets

Canine tracks by the river bed, fresh after the night's storm. Towering grey cumulus clouds are still warring in the distance now, the following morning. In the silty mud closer to the water are some willows and dogwood and lots of Himalayan blackberry1, the weed with big thorns and sweet August fruit.

Above the river bank at the base of the levees on either side of the Calaveras water channel, occasional plants live on these unpaved and barren hills of oily coating.  Mallows and nightshades, and wild wild squash can survive like lizards in the desert. Tumbleweed2 succeeds, rolls and punctures bicycle tubes with long speeding spires.

The postal headquarters for the city, with birds3 in the parking lot's trees. Closer to the river, under the bridge crossing, are the vagrants who brave the night wind in sleeping bags with one-liner jokes, improvising now about the morning cold.

An old walnut orchard is next to the giant paved parking lot, east of the bridge crossing - no doubt a stubborn farmer holding out. Gnarled trunks and twisted branches produce fruit this late in fall, dropped on the ground here on the levee side of fence.

A hundred feet east, the north side levee continues as tall as rooftops. Houses in this tidy neighborhood tract go for just over $100K4 for a 2 or 3 bedroom. The tower of the private university is not far in the distance (with college dreams of doing the right thing but mostly going in debt.)

Domestic cats in a range of wild occupy the zone between the levee and apartment border fences, another barren zone. Chihuahuas and other small dogs rule the other side of fences between garbage cans and garages, and back stairwells of the multi-plex apartments in varying states of decline. A two bedroom goes for $600/month or only $525 if willing to endure the yelling and stomping from upstair's neighbor. Young children can be heard behind the broken and boarded up windows closest to the levee. Young children can be heard from behind the broken and boarded up windows closest to the levee.

Further west there's a gated community, unfinished with leveled lots that lost financing and now are curbs leading nowhere, conduits for utilities rolled up and exposed.  A playground stands unused in center of the vacant lots. Directly east of that is the tennis and swim club, also of tall fences topped with barbed wire and special deals for new members.

Stockton has all the desired mall features and chains including Trader Joes and Target. A community farm is way south of that, and may expand to the unused leveled lots up here near the Calaveras water channel. This city is like Detroit except it went bankrupt sooner, in 2012.

UPSTREAM of levees
Not wild or scenic: contained for many decades, controlled by human development of water channels, dams and levees. This history includes the 1865 short story from Mark Twain "the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and Stockton as the nearest port for gold country to the Pacific.

Calaveras is a tributary of the San Joaquin River since 1960 the New Hogan Reservoir caught the Calaveras and other tributaries in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada5 not far from the intersection of the highways 49 and 12 from San Andreas to Angels Camp to Arnold. The earthquake faults run parallel to the dam (preferred to perpendicular.)

DOWNSTREAM of levees
The river flows near old Stockton built in late 1800s like downtown Oakland, with 150 year old Victorian building storefronts6 housing wholesale Chinese markets and old blues bars. The locals make claims that the best chicken in the state can be bought here.

Dodie tells the story about the Central Valley rivers from when she was a kid: before the dams and river channels and levees, back when the great Sacramento River had giant cottonwood trees with vines like jungles they crawled through to get to the riverbank. Yellow-billed magpies everywhere as far as anyone could see.7

Calusa Park is still there and a couple other remnants as wildlife refuges. Dodie says don't go in winter or spring when the mud will be up past the knees, when the water tries to swell on the landscape like wetlands and vernal pools of the past.

Two private waterfront country clubs meet the banks of Calaveras river at the joining to the Stockton Deep Water Channel, next to the minor league baseball stadium and across from the park with an outdoor amphitheater. The Channel then runs out to the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta through Suisun Bay near Grizzly Bay, past Antioch and Martinez and out to the San Pablo Bay and the golden gate to the ocean.

1Rubus armeniacus (from Caucasus Mts, Eurasia)

2Salsola tragus (Russian thistle) is the tumbleweed everywhere except FL & AK.

3unable to identify the bird species due to the large barbed wire topped fence, the lack of binoculars, and we didn't stop to listen.

4but watch out for loan people in Stockton, some Ponzi schemes since so long so goes the story.

5Hogan is in between Camanche and New Melones reservoirs - over eight others in the foothils around there, many or most built in 1950s and 60s. The 1930s is when the dams started on a grand scale, with the Army Corps of Engineers and the WPA too.

6Pre-gentrified unlike SF's Fillmore District with upscale soul food and Asian noodle houses most no one can afford.

7Yellow billed magpies (Pica nuttalli) are endemic to California's Central Valley.

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