Category Archives: Bay Area Walks

I am afraid it has come to this

I had lunch today with a friend and we finished much more quickly than usual. I had brought my camera because the last time we had lunch there – there being the Fish Market in San Mateo – a mother duck was showing her teenagers how to forage and I was hoping for a repeat. It was gloriously hot  and all the outside tables were full so we ate inside which may be why we were finished so quickly. What ever the reason, we had some time to kill and we sat – sort of sunning ourselves – on a bench overlooking San Mateo’s Seal Slough. On a corner of the Fish Market’s dock, were a cormorant and seagull also sunning themselves.

They seemed to not being paying much attention to each other which makes sense as they operate in totally different eco-niches. After a while, two more cormorants showed up to fish just off the dock. Then they came over to sun themselves – opening their wings – and the seagull got sort of agitated and moved away. But not very far.

About that time a heron came over to the shore near us to hunt.

At one point one of the late to arrive cormorants got two close to the self identified dock owning cormorant and he/she/or it turned and bit his – who knows if she is a he, but I’m going with his – wing. The intruder backed up about six inches and then moved closer by about four inches just to show he wasn’t intimidated.  Watching the five birds was watching five individual animals. It was fascinating and lovely, sitting in the sun, watching the birds live their little to me – big to them – lives.

And then I thought This is just too close to two old men sitting on a park bench. I remarked on that and we both decided we had places to go and people to see.


A trip to the Exploratorium

Located at the Palace of Fine Arts on the site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the Exploratorium is one of San Francisco’s best entertainments. It has the added benifit of being in a building designed by architect Bernard Maybeck.  The Exploratorium  bills itself as a museum of science, art, and human perception but it is much more. It is a giant, interactive, toy for anybody who is even a little curious about the world we live in.

A couple of weeks ago, I went there with my grandkids.

When I was in the Army, in Korea, I read Herb Caen, a gossip columnists in the San Francisco Chrony that everybody read. Every time I got a letter, it would have several Caen columns. During that year, one of the things that he was promoting was the restoration of the Palace of Fine Arts which, by then, was the only building left from the world’s fair built to show San Francisco’s Phoenix-like comeback from the 1906 earthquake. Then, like now, I was interested in architecture, and then, like now, I loved Bernard Maybeck. I loved his take on classical architecture at the Palace of Fine Art and sent a couple of bucks to my mom to contribute to the cause. She thought that my contribution was mis-placed and sent the money somewhere else. I have blocked out where.

So I was very happy to see that the restoration took place without my money and, eventually, became the home of the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium, itself, was the brain child of Frank Oppenheimer. Frank was the brother of Robert Oppenheimer, considered the father of the Atomic bomb. In my book, Frank has left the better legacy.

I fell in love with the Exploratorium when I went there as a childless adult, then later, with my daughter Samantha, then my “little brother”, Edwin Peña, and, now, with my grandchildren. Charlotte and August.


Any kid, every kid, can find hundreds of fascinating experiments. So can any adult.



I’m thrilled to have a photo in the New York Times….well, sort of

Not sort of thrilled, I'm very thrilled; but I only sort of have a photo in the Times. Who really has a photo in the New York Times is René de Guzman, senior curator of art and all around good guy, in an article on the Oakland Museum. But there – just above his head and probably not noticed by anybody but René and Richard Taylor – is a portrait of René's wife that I took. 




A walk in the sun

Today it stopped raining for awhile – and the sun came out. In our backyard, all kinds of plants are starting to bloom. The jade tree or crassula argentea – or crassula ovata – that Michele got from her mother's front door stoop:

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A hybrid cymbidium we got from somewhere,

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And almost all our fruit trees.

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The area where we live is part of the Town of Portola Valley but, because the roads are so narrow and sub-standard, the town will not maintain them. So we have a private maintenance district that is run by a Homeowners Club that is supported in part by the residents and by an allowance from the Town.

Last weekend, we cleared an old trail to the next road over. So, when the sun came out, Michele and I went for a walk on the newly opened trail.

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Past all kinds of mushrooms that I am sure are deadly,

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the giant wake robin or trillium chloropetalum or, as Michele calls them, just trillium,

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and – of course, because it is February – there are acacias everywhere.

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And vibrant moss on everything including the benches.

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Finally, at the top of the trail, is a view of Stanford and Palo Alto.

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Walking in Wunderlich Park….a gift from the Federal Government – in a very round about way

Yesterday, we went for a walk in Martin Wunderlich Park. According to San Mateo County, "Martin Wunderlich….graciously tendered it for public recreation
by deeding 942 acres to San Mateo County for use as park and open space." There are not many people who own 942 acres and even less who give it away – thank you, Mr. Wunderlich.

According to a story my dad used to tell, and everything I can confirm on a short trip to Googleland, Martin Wunderlich was a very rich man and he got rich because he was very smart and very, very lucky. In the late 1930's, Wunderlich was the owner of a company doing a small construction job on the Panama Canal. Then WWII started and the job got much bigger and turned into a cost-plus job. By 1943, Wunderlich had made a $4,870,000 profit – in 1943 $s (probably like $50mil now) from the work.

After the war, the US Army – which ran the what we call the Air Force today – had thousands of planes with nothing to use them for. So, they put them up for sale with the proviso that the buyer couldn't actually fly them. Wunderlich started buying plans and – my dad's story went – drained the tanks and sold the aviation gas for more than he paid for the planes. By 1947, he had the second largest Air Force in the world. Bigger than the USAF and second to the Soviets. Where the planes were stored in Arizona, was the largest concentration of airplanes the world has ever seen.  


One of the things that Wunderlich was able to buy with all that money was this nice piece of land that is now a park. The park is in Woodside and runs from the bottom of the Santa Cruz Mountains – or the top of the alluvial plain between the mountains and the bay – and runs up to the top of the ridge. At one time, it was a redwood forest thousands of years old, but was logged out, probably more than once, starting in 1850.  

A walk in the park starts by walking along a wall made by Chinese stone masons in 1872. Now the wall is covered in moss and ferns which are very happy this time of year.


Then it is up the towards the ridge.

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And past Acacias which are just starting to bloom – so it must be February.


And up through second or third growth redwoods. Pale imitations of the giants that used to live here.

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Still a nice place to walk.