sometime last year, staring out the window of the capital corridor train from berkeley (where i lived) and davis (where i go to school), i started thinking about all of the places that i know so well from the train window, and had never seen up close: the sugar refinery, the town of hercules, the tiny fishing huts in the bay-delta. and i got curious. so for my thesis project, i came up with this project, "beating the bounds," in which i would walk along the railroad tracks from oakland, where the train originates, to sacramento in order to see what i could see. or more officially, to explore regional change in the area and its basis in the historical landscape.
Beating the bounds, an English tradition, is the title for this piece:
A custom dating from the 5th century when parishioners asked for God's blessing to protect their crops. During the Reformation walking the parish boundary became a more important part of the ceremony as it provided the community with a mental map which could be drawn on in disputes over boundaries. (www.commonground.org.uk)
though the project seemed to me (and others) a bit outlandish, my advisor seemed to think this was a *good* idea, and encouraged me to do it. when i applied for a grant (and received it!), i realized i had to actually go through with this. so yesterday i bought my first-ever digital camera, and started walking; today i started my first-ever blog.
[when i understand more about blogging, i'll put the proposal for the project up. until such a time, i'll just spill out my thoughts on what i did yesterday, and maybe some photos if i can figure that function out.]
although the capital corridor route ostensibly begins in sf (a bus takes you to oakland), i decided to start at the oakland station where the train itself originates. also, it's really hard to walk (swim?) from sf to oakland. i had my buddy justin meet me at the station to walk with me -- although i generally like to strike out on my own, it occurs to me that the walking portion of this project will have to be done with a [male] partner. also, he is lovely, and requested only that i bring him trail mix.
so off we went, out of the train station and into the great wide world.
see, the amtrak runs on rails that they *lease* from union pacific (at least here in california), so they often run through freight yards and other places walking people aren't allowed. this brings up an interesting problem: part of my project is to encounter the rails outside of the train, and see how that feels. however, as justin pointed out, it can be sort of dangerous and there isn't really much to see. it's sort of a no-man's land. regardless, being disallowed access to a place set my artistic sensibilities all a-tizzy.
in the end, i relented and we walked as close to the tracks as we were allowed, which was pretty far. this being a proto-walk, it brought up an important question: what exactly am i trying to find out? and how far from the tracks do i go to find that thing? do i want to talk to the people or the landscape? what do i hope they will tell me? i think coming up with a rule, even if slightly arbitrary, will help define the (otherwise vast) scope of this project.
[tangent: this is a tactic employed in poetry, where the poet often comes up with rules for herself in order to refine the poem. in a syllabic poem, for instance, the poet is confined to a certain number of syllables per line. this is to say that the rule establishes a place that can be explored more thoroughly.]
so we walked, and found some suprises, many as i hoped, based on the fact that the tracks were laid where they were a long time ago, and that they butt up against the port of oakland, long one of the west coast's most important ports. one such suprise was this superfund site where a chemical plant had been:
just next to this house where a family lives (!)
after the post office, it was a long walk on "frontage road," a pretty empty place whose main function is to run parallel to the freeway. nonetheless, it has sidewalks, and justin and i plodded through in the hot sun (note: future walking ought to commence early in the morning instead of 2:30 in the afternoon in the august sun.)
eventually, we came across the pulte housing development of west oakland, a multi-million dollar project that i frankly know very little about. particularly curious to me, however, is
that the centerpiece of the whole thing is this old train station that is an historic landmark.
and then we were in the industrial district of west oakland, an area historically sited based on its proximity to transport. there are certainly some machine shops and other traditional manufacturing outfits. there were also, however, businesses that just require space, and are easily accessible by car, such as this doggy daycare beside the freeway:
at emeryville, we were able to get close to the train tracks again. also, because justin is studying urban planning at berkeley, he knows lots about physical and economic development in emeryville, which made it way more interesting. i got to see the new "green" development, blue star corner, as well as lots of familiar places like ikea and the bay street development from the back. shockingly, there's not a lot to see behind a big cement building where nobody lives.
it did get me curious, however, how emeryville has become the big box mecca it is today in such a short time. how is the history of this tiny bite taken out of oakland tied up historically with the rail lines?
we weren't sure how far we would walk in one day, but after 3 hot hours we arrived at the emeryville amtrak station, beneath the pedestrian bridge that marks the place where you *ought* to walk, it was clear that our journey was over:
the next walk, hopefully, will take me from emeryville out to martinez.
to do: learn how to post bigger photos, learn more neat tricks with my new digital camera (!), buy better shoes, get a tour of the oakland amtrak train yard, get a tour of the oakland postal service center, get a tour of the housing development and train station in oakland, figure out how to plot my adventure on google maps.