Monday, January 7, 2008

Golden Gate Park Recovery

Over 200 trees have been felled and the city's most famous tree, 'Uncle John's Tree', has been damaged in the Golden Gate Park during the hurricane.

Some 50 trees over 100 years old were humbled, their roots displayed to the world. But in total the park has lost 164 large trees and over 200 if small ones are counted, their spokeswoman, Gloria, said.

A number of majestic trees 'loved for generations' have gone, she said, 'but a number of familiar trees made it through', the worst damage being in the West End by the Pacific Ocean.

Surely the most heart-stopping moment for staff, though, was when they discovered the city's most famous tree, 'Uncle John's Tree', had taken a severe battering and lost several large branches?

This 120-year-old Monterey Cypress is San Francisco's official Christmas tree. Girded with steel and decked with strings of lights, it stands at the Haight Ashbury entrance. And is named after Scotsman John McLaren who was co-creator of the park and superintendent for 53 years, who lived in McLaren Lodge behind.

But Gloria was more up-beat and philosophical than I had expected. 'Trees are finite', she said, which is true and makes me think the tree should by now be named Great Great Great Uncle John's Tree.

She went on to explain that plans have already been made for the demise, sad though it will be, of the tree. For nearby a young cypress has been planted and has been quietly growing for 20 years in readiness of assuming the honoured mantle.

Uncle John's Tree was not the only survivor with a brush with death. The park's gardeners, too, had a fortunate escape. None of them was injured by falling trees and branches and neither was anyone taking shelter inside a shed and restroom that were blown down in the height of the storm.

'We are thankful we have not lost our favourite people or many of our favourite trees,' Gloria said.

And equally thankful that the remaining seven or eight bison of the park's historic herd had not been hurt. Making them sound like a geriatric dance troupe in London's theatre land, Gloria said that their 'old girls' had survived possibly by not being in the West End at the time.

Golden Gate Park is an enormous rectangle of reclaimed sand dunes that sits 'end on' to the Pacific Ocean. With over 1,000 acres, it is larger than Central Park, New York, and according to Wikipedia is the third most visited park in America after Central Park and Lincoln Park, Chicago.

The morning after last week's storm saw loading trucks first of all clearing main roads through the park. Now staff are working on clearing away the large trees. With the grounds strewn with arboreal litter, forestry staff have worked for seven days in succession to clear the park.

Again, Gloria has a positive aspect of the loss of so many trees. Forests can become too dense, she said, and in cutting out the light visitors tend to hasten through rather than linger and take in the beauty and features of the trees.

With sunlight now streaming into so many gaps, she sees it as a golden opportunity - excuse the tempting pun - to plant flowers and open up the park once more. Given that the Golden Gate Park was the site of the 1967 Summer of Love that launched the hippy movement, it can be said that 2008 may well be the year when Flower Power returns.

Click for pics which show: carpeting of the ground with leafy litter; Uncle John's Tree with McLaren Lodge behind; felling of a giant eucalyptus tree and its roots with other eucalptus tree alongside to show its height; other damage in the park

Storm News and Recovery

San Francisco is recovering from it's near-hurricane storm.

'It is the worst storm in 40 years,' said an elderly lady whose home faces the Pacific ocean.

With her husband she was out on the pavement this morning tending to a damaged tree on the side of their house. That part of the Pacific Coast had some of the worst of the battering.

Just further along is the Beach Chalet restaurant-cum-museum. Sitting at the end of the Golden Gate Park with panoramic views across the ocean, it reminds me of the 'restaurant at the end of the universe' in Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

On the morning of the storm, said my young server, so dense was the rain against the windows it was 'like being in a car wash'.

In the wake of the storm, he continued, the seas continued to swell with waves that were at 'eye height'. And this is a second-floor restaurant.

'It was so weird!' he said.

The effects of the storm on the Golden Gate Park have their own blog.

Another story was at the Golden Gate Bridge. The lady serving coffee in the Bridge Cafe said, 'Forget the rain, it was the wind! It nearly blew me over, and I'm sturdy!'

She added that the wind had only come in gusts so the whole experience had not seemed that bad, even though the 70 mph winds were just 4 mph below a hurricane.

Neither had the bridge been closed, she explained, because the wind had blown directly against the main structures, rather than crossways with the risk of causing the bridge to swing like a hammock.

The most entertaining feature was the fact that tourists had turned up and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Had they come to experience the storm for an adventure? No, she didn't think so. They seemed unaware that this was something San Fran was bracing itself for.

'When you're on holiday, this is what you do,' she said. 'Visit the bridge!'

The 'Man who built the Bridge', Chief Engineer Joseph Struass, whose sculpture stands before the towers, has an apt tribute inscribed on the plinth of his statue:

'Here at the Golden Gate is the
Eternal Rainbow that he conceived
And set to form, a promise indeed
That the race of man shall
Endure unto the Ages.'

He would be pleased to know that his bridge appears to be included in that eternal promise.

But perhaps the last word needs to go to another resident near the ocean. A British emigre of 25 years who has weathered the War and the last big quake, he considered the storm 'of no great shakes!'

Perhaps a storm, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Click for pics. They show a becalmed Pacific Ocean and the view from the Beach Chalet; residents' tree damage; the Golden Gate Bridge with statue of Joseph Strauss; views over the Bay with Alcatraz and Angel Island where winds reached hurricane force.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Zoo Wall for Polar Bears Too Short

It has now been reported that the height of the wall at the polar bear enclosure at the San Fran zoo is also below national guidelines.

The San Fran Chronicle say that the zoo admitted that they are putting in a chain-link fence that will raise the wall to 16ft. The zoo are also working closely with the police so that any future emergency - perish the thought - will have a coordinated response. Police officers are familiarising themselves with the lay out of the zoo and the local station is to have entry keys.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail has produced a horrific report detailing the cruelty of zoos in China. As a tourist attraction visitors feed live animals to lions and tigers. In one particular activity, people dangle a live chicken tied to a bamboo pole over the lions. The sport is to tantalise the lions and wait for them to catch and devour the prey.

But this report highlights something: the public are safe while aggravating Big Cats. And there are a lot more lions and tigers in multiple zoos in China than in San Francisco zoo.

A visitor to the zoo on that fateful Christmas Day has said she saw two of the three boys mauled by the tiger, 'roaring' at the animal, though the boys have denied it.

The zoo's Director has said 'Something prompted our tiger to leap over the exhibit'.

It is no excuse for a tiger on the loose.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Storm Evening

Hurricane-force winds have battered the Bay Area with winds only slightly below hurricane strength blowing over the city and Golden Gate Bridge.

About two inches of rain has fallen in the city in the worst storm in two years. In towns around the Bay Area the damage is extensive with up to 8 inches of rainfall.

In total over one million people lost power and a huge effort is underway to restore service. Thousands of people are still without power tonight.

On NBC 11's early evening news filming in the Bay Area showed many trees down, a massive sea swell with dramatic shots of waves breaking over a bridge and, further afield, snow blizzards in the Sierra.

According to the San Fran Chronicle, the highest gusts in the Bay Area were measured at 107 mph with winds of 70 mph on the Golden Gate Bridge and 78 mph on Angel Island in the Bay. Trees in the Golden Gate Park including 'heritage trees' have suffered damage and about 400 street trees have also been affected.

In San Francisco during the storm this morning trains were disrupted and cable cars halted until later morning when branches from two trees fell onto the tracks. One of the main tram lines through the centre also stopped running because of a tree on the line. Elsewhere in the city scaffolding fell down. Some cars have been damaged but no-one has been killed, and the zoo has temporarily closed, reported the paper.

South of the city the wind seemed to be considerably lighter in some parts that were sheltered by buildings, and whilst many flights were cancelled or delayed, the airport did not completely shut down.

By this afternoon much of the city was surprisingly back to normal. I rode through the city on a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf. There were leaves and twigs strewing some of the pavements but in Union Square and on the Wharf the Christmas trees appeared undamaged.

At the Wharf
a straggle of tourists in yellow plastic rainwear made a doughty way down a gangway at 2.30 pm for the only bay cruise of the day.

Alcatraz and other ferries remained moored but at the Embarcadero monitors announced the resumption of services across the bay for later in the day.

A coffee shop employee at the Embarcadero described the day as 'disappointingly quiet' which probably sums up the city as a whole. While there were people on the streets it was far less populated.

Weather forecasters say that the worst is now over although quite heavy rain is expected to persist over the weekend with some thunderstorms possible over the city tomorrow.

Click for pics to see storm damage and the city in recovery - click on individual pics for larger views

Storm Morning

The storm is the big story here this morning. KTVU devoted hours to live reporting and continue on-line. The San Fran Chronicle likewise is giving extensive coverage.

In San fran the storm has brought about one inch of rain so far and some power outages.

Around parts of the city and over the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge winds were at 70 mph and a gust of 72 mph was recorded, just 2 mph below hurricane strength.

The Golden Gate Transit bus and ferry service has shut down. A tunnel leading to the Golden Gate Bridge and two bridge lanes have also been closed

The Bay ferries remain in port apart from the Almeda/Oakland Ferry, and across the Bay two BART trains have hit tree branches on the lines. Tram and cable car services have also been affected.

The airport is seeing a lot of delayed or cancelled flights.

Conditions are worse of course in other areas around California. According to the San Fran Chronicle up to eight inches of rain has fallen in some places and over half a million customers are without power in the region as a whole.

But gazing at the storm from near the centre of the city early this morning, people were walking with umbrellas up, which suggested a moderate wind. Given the forecast, it was surprising to see so many people out and about on foot and in cars, and many trains running.

In an empty apartment across from us, a window was left open and the wind forced the blinds out over the street. They dangled for a while and finally were torn from their rail. Fortunately no-one was injured as they hurtled down.

Today we are seeing the second wave of storms that will run over the weekend.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Top News Stories of 2007

Readers of the San Fran Chronicle have voted for what they consider to be the top news stories of 2007.

Top of the list are the subprime mortgage problems, the effects of which have travelled round the globe.

Second is the oil spill, which happened days before we moved here when the Cosco Busan rammed the Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.

Third, was the story of a fuel truck that crashed in April causing nearly 9,000 gallons of gasoline to explode and collapse an East Bay freeway.

The poll was launched by the paper just before the tiger killed the teenager and mauled two young men on Christmas Day. It is likely that the zoo story would have been in the top three.

It will be interesting to see what happens particularly tomorrow with the forecast storms, and whether this becomes one of the year's top stories.

Zoo Reopens

The zoo reopened today to the dismay of the mother of the 17-year-old boy who was mauled to death by the tiger.

The mother said on a KTVU broadcast that she felt the reopening showed a lack of respect for her son, Carlos Sousa Jr. The zoo, it seems, is concerned about loss of income.

Meanwhile, a visitor to the zoo on Christmas Day has told the San Fran Chronicle that she saw the brothers who were injured in the attack taunting a lion. She also thought there were four young men in the group, not three, and added that Carlos was not one of those roaring at the lion.

Police, however, have been unable to confirm if the tiger was taunted or if there were four people.

The Lion House will remain closed and the zoo plan to build a reinforced-glass wall above the moat which will raise the height of the wall to 19 feet. They are also installing an improved public address system and new signs forbidding animal harassment.

Visitors to the zoo are continuing to support a memorial to both Carlos and Tatiana, the tiger.
They are laying flowers, cards and photos of the tiger beside a bronze sculpture of a tiger at the zoo's entrance.

Storm Brewing

San Fran is battening down the hatches and preparing for the worst storms in two years. By lunchtime today the rain was starting.

Up to four inches of rain is forecast to fall around the city in the next few days with heavy winds with hurricane-force gusts causing coastal flooding, high surf and ocean swells of 25 to 30 feet and possible power outages.

About 500 sandbags have been given out with more on the way and the US Coast Guard is asking sailors to stay in port. The heaviest rain will be on Friday morning with up to eight inches in the surrounding hills, reports the San Fran Chronicle.

The three storms that are predicted to arrive in quick succession up to Monday will affect the whole of California. The end of the storms could bring snow to the highest peaks. Lake Tahoe, the ski resort to the north east, may get an extra ten feet of snow and winds as strong as 150 mph on the highest ridges.

KTVU, the local television channel, also reports on the city cleaning its sewers to make sure there are no blockages, and residents stocking up on 'tarps' and candles.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year Valentine

Wandering through Macy's on New Year's Eve I suddenly saw...Valentine cards! Not just one or two but stacks of them. Two whole card sections devoted to Red Romance.

In the background were the Christmas trees stripped bare - still trying to find a good home at 75 per cent reduction. Decorations still sat in sale boxes.

Outside in the animated windows, the skating furry animals muffled in their woolly hats and scarves continued to twirl on ice in their winter wonderland.

But inside, the Christmas cards were gone. The world rolls on. Love is in the air. Champagne, flowers and great red hearts - and don't forget your pooch's valentine.

I'm holding a Hot Cross Bun party. If anyone would like to join me next week...

PS I have now noticed that our local Safeway and Borders are also in the Red!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Day

The second part of New Year's Day, after the revelling, was a time for many San Franciscan's to enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

Temperatures were in the low 50s, the air was cool but it was sunny.

The Bike Trail between Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge was full of walkers and cyclists. There were also a couple of hardy swimmers in the water.

We walked from the Wharf, climbed up the coastal path into Battery Park and down to Crissy Field leading to below the bridge. Crissy Field is part of the Golden Gate National Parks with conservation and picnic areas. As you walk, the Golden Gate Bridge towers above and there is a steep wooded path to the bridge itself.

There are also marinas. On top of a boat sat Father Christmas with two of his reindeer, enjoying the sight of the bridge and perhaps hoping for some fresh fish before returning to Lapland.

Throughout the city Christmas decorations are still very much in evidence.

Returning home through town we saw that China Town was bustling and many of the stores and restaurants were open. Shopping is the favoured way for some to start the New Year but whilst it's easy to jibe, there is another side.

A moving TV report interviewed minimum-pay workers in restaurants who are grateful for an opportunity to work on a day that pays time-and-a-half.