Wednesday, 7 April 2010


You know of course who was Chester Nimitz ;-) No? Well, he is a man of the past, even if the most glorious past of American history. Chester was the US’ first fleet admiral and commanded the Pacific fleet during WWII. What business did I have with him yesterday?
Day before yesterday was hermit’s day. It rained without interruption and I felt no urge to leave my apartment. Fortunately the rain stopped towards evening and the morning after looked already promising (a false promise it turned out to be). Eager to move my legs, I started the rental car and headed towards the nearest spot of nature in the Bay area, called Tilden Regional Park. As an aside, you would not expect that the Bay area, one of the largest congregations of mankind in the States, would contain any mentionable plots of undisturbed nature. But, in fact, you can find numerous such areas here, usually due to the need to maintain unspoilt watersheds. As the weeks go by, you may hear more about those marvels of nature.
Tilden lies on the ridge of the Berkeley Hills that shelter the town from the winds of the Great Central Valley. Mounting that ridge you feel on top of the world. To your east your eyes can range far over hills gradually receding towards the Central Valley, only to be stopped by Mount Diablo, the highest mountain in the eastern Bay area. To the west the grand panorama of San Francisco, the Golden Gate and Mount Tamalpais is folding out before your eyes opened wide with wonder. And along the ridge a trail meanders back and from, up and down, to give exercise to the eager hiker. This is no other than the famous NIMITZ TRAIL that I was trodding yesterday morning. A true voyage down memory lane: this was Alice’s and mine favourite hiking trail way back in the seventies, when we spent a year in Berkeley.

The trail goes on and on, seemingly forever, but we always stopped our hike at a small hilltop, called Wildcat Peak. I had read somewhere that a commercial organisation had planted a Redwood grove along the peak. We looked and looked, but could never find it. Eventually it dawned on us that a small group of “Christmas” trees, of about our size, located on the side of the hill, was probably that grove. It turned out that these were baby Sequoia Gigantea trees, still in their first infancy.
So I started out my hike yesterday full of expectations and curiosity. Would that small grove have survived the bay climate, so different from the varying climate in the low Sierras, their natural habitat? I would see very soon. Before that I had occasion to admire Mount Diablo at its most diabolic, that is, dressed in dramatic clouds that rendered it close to invisible.
Along the hike I passed several groves of eucalyptus trees. These are not indigenous. In the early 1900s, when the region had been essentially deforested, some clever businessmen got the idea to import quick growing eucalyptus from Australia, after having heard that this tree was commonly used there as building and pulping material. Unfortunately, by importing the quickest rising of the species, it was overlooked that this specific variant was completely useless for either building or paper production. In contrast it thrived in the warm climate of the Berkeley hills and soon outperformed all native trees there. However, in the early seventies, there was a harsh winter indeed in the hills, with snow and ice. This came as a surprise for the Australians, and an unheard of hardship for them, and most of them died of. It bears witness to the speed of growth that new groves of substantial height are already repopulating the devastated areas. You can see this in the pictures where people provide appropriate scaling.
Whilst the beginning of the journey was “blessed” with continuous drizzling, this eventually stopped and I could find the “Redwood” grove rather easily in the beginning sunlight. Unfortunately, the ascent of Wildcat Peak likened more a small brook than a path, but nothing could stop your eager wanderer, looking forward to the “gigantic” Sequoias. They did not disappoint me. The small grove of sparsely planted “Christmas” trees had become a dense forest of pyramid shaped major trees of between 20 and 30 meters’ height.
Fighting my way through the dense grove, I discovered that trees had been dedicated to promoters of peace (the grove bears the valiant name of “Berkeley Peace Grove”). One name got my attention: Professor Teller, the inventor of the hydrogen bomb. Maybe some of the readers can explain to us, how inventing this bomb is supposed to promote peace. Please don’t hesitate to introduce your remarks as a comment to this blog!
I had been on my way by then for an hour and a half already, so it was time to go back. Fortunately, the sun kept me company almost back to the car, and soon I received my reward for hours of patient trodding: at an open stretch on the road, the panorama of San Franciso and the Golden Gate suddenly emerged from behind the clouds and re-invigorated this wary hiker.
When going back down by car, rain started again, but I still got some nice glimpses of cherry trees and flowers that may round up this eventful exercise.


Emil Ems said...

In the preceding blog, Lars had asked the question whether Chez Panisse still exists. Stimulated by this question I undertook a thorough investigation, including a nice dinner at this excellent eating place. Lars, I cannot but compliment your taste in restaurants. Excellent service, fine food and, relatively speaking, reasonable prices. I felt I deserved a nice dinner after the exercise described in the present blog but, alas, the food was so good that I will have to work out on hiking paths several times more to earn it. Thanks again, Lars, for your excellent suggestion!

Lars Werin said...

I feel somewhat sentimental when thinking of Berkeley. I was there in the spring of 1982, about 6-7 weeks only. Astrid joined me, and we stayed at 1780 Spruce St., in a penthouse on top of the buildimg with a view of both bridges. This happened by just pure, improbable, unlikely good luck. The Dept. of Economics was dull, but I met Thomas Marschak as you know, and we talked about you, and we liked doing that. I had more to do with Gerard Debreu who resided in a special building. with his entourage of much too clever people. There was a nice theater somewhare in Berkeley "city center", and I saw a play by Bernard Shaw there, I don't remember which but I could probably find it in my diary if you want to know. Glad you liked Chez Panisse.

laetitia said...

Mon très cher Ami Emil,
C'est toujours un grand plaisir de vous lire, découvrant vos différents voyages à travers le monde et admirant vos magnifiques photos!
Profitez de votre séjour que je continue de suivre avec émerveillement!

per.wijkman said...

Your surprise at seeing Teller's pacific efforts being honoured in Berkely Grove is probably only matched by the surprise that inspired the prize committee in Cambridge to award him the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in the early 1990ies. Need I add that this ignoble prize has a sataric ring to it?The committee no doubt felt that Teller had earned an award by his insistance that a hydrogen bomb was better than an atomic bomb, by his advoacy for mutually assured destruction (Mad) and by his support for President Reagan's star wars. After all, the (real) prize in economics in memory of Nobel was awarded to Thomas Schelling i.a. for providing a game theoretic justification for Mad. However, the honour accorded Teller in the Berkeley park is no joke. No doubt the fact that he was a professor at UCB and that Reagan was governor of California was more important than that East coasters saw him as a model for Dr. Strangelove!


Emil Ems said...

Thank you, Lars, Laetitia and Per for your kind and interesting comments. Lars, I will try to see whether your house on Spruce Street is still standing and, if so, whether they will let me enter the Penthouse for taking a picture of the marvelous view. I will keep you informed. I would also appreciate the name of the theatre you visited, I would certainly be interested in going there for a piece. Per, you always surprise us with your superior lexicographic knowledge! I begin to think that you should write this blog instead of me!

Rudi Schmid said...

Correction on your fine Berkeley blog, specifically 7 Apr. 2010: "The small grove of sparsely planted “Christmas” trees had become a dense forest of pyramid shaped major trees of between 20 and 30 meters’ height." Having just arrived from Sweden, you obviously were still thinking partly in metric. It should be 20-30 feet high, which is about 6-9 meters high. Seedlings of the Sierran redwoods were planted here in November 1955. -- Rudi Schmid, UC Berkeley

Emil Ems said...

Dear Rudi,
I am delighted and honored to have a valiant professor in Botany commenting on my humble blog.

You are perfectly right, I got my meters confused with my feet, when measuring, by eye sight, the size of those trees. I will let the mistake live on in the blog, however, so that your valid comment can still apply. For your information, I am now preparing a book based on this blog. There I will have the chance of introducing the right measures.

Rudi Schnid said...

Thanks for the response, Emil, and for the email. Your knowledge of our East Bay history and natural splendors is enviable, and much more extensive than that of most long-term residents. Your book will be a delightful read.

The 1980 Rotary-Club Peace Award went, as Emil points out, to Edward Teller (1908-2003). For a reproduction of the 1980 brochure commemorating Teller see: "Items-in-Rotary Clubs.pdf". (1980-81. For the URL Google the title (direct URL unknown). Incidentally, the 1981 Rotary-Club Award (see aforenoted URL) went to Kurt Waldheim (1918-2007), Secretary General (1972-82) of the United Nations, scandalized over his Nazi past (1985), and, despite that, elected President of Austria (1986-92). Some of these fascists have had long lives. -- Rudi Schmid, UC Berkeley