With my two sons in the back, I drive an unfamiliar street in our urban neighborhood when I find looming to our right . . . . green.
“Green!” I shout.
The boys swivel right. There, adjacent to the car is a plot of green: ivy, overhanging oak, grass, and - I am driving 5 m.p.h. – what is that flush to the sidewalk?
A creek flowing through the ivy.
“Pull over!” Willie yells.
I pull over and we three scamper out, immediately darting here and there: over the creek, back over the creek, onto a rock, through the grass, up to the base of the tree, back to the creek, and following along the creek on the adjacent flush sidewalk. The creek’s current takes us down the block.
Willie scales the creek once more and crouches under some arched bushes on the other side: “A perfect place for a hobo to sleep!”
Pat begins to sing his version of superhero theme music.
“This is Temescal Creek!” I exclaim. I thought it was buried.” We follow the creek until it ripples through a grate and under a Western-Pacific-Bank-now-mega-chain-video-store.
We are shaded by Eucalyptus trees. Dirt is at our feet. I get an eerie feeling as we imagine that this spit of land is what our neighborhood used to look like before being built upon.
Pat is hungry. We pry Willie away with the promise that next time we will come back with our bikes.
Willie and I now have a destination in our neighborhood. We still have the corner “cookie store," and around the corner is the hardware store. We can go to the library and sometimes to Walgreens for added snacking selections.
But now we have nature too. The prospect literally glitters. Willie can not be contained. He and I take off on our bikes.
The evening is light and soft. The sound of the rippling creek water is soothing. We follow the creek upstream, as it disappears under the street and re-emerges behind the Department of Motor Vehicles, where it widens. A weeping willow hangs over the water. Stalks of grass tuft. Fronds shine. Eucalyptus trees with huge wide trunks stand dizzyingly tall, adjacent to an equally massive bolder. A paved path takes us past huckleberry bushes, mistletoe, a cherry tree.
Willie and I leave our bikes. Willie throws the biggest rocks he can find to make the highest splashes. I crouch low to get an earful of water sound. Just beyond us, reflections from the surface of the water are shimmering in mottled silver on the blond trunk of a Eucalyptus.
“Look, Willie, at the beautiful pattern on the tree!”
“Yeah. . . .Look, Mom, at the fish!”
“The what?” I follow Willie’s gaze. There, lying in the creek, is a fish.
Now, “creek” may be a generous term here. At most, the creek may be 24 inches wide. Maybe it gets seven inches deep. But much of the creek is a sweet ripple of perhaps five inches wide. The fish is laying on its side, the water just barely washing over it. The fish is a good 13 inches long. It is straining to take in water, its eye a vivid saucer. Willie and I move closer together. This fish is in distress.
“Willie, this fish needs help.”
“Yeah, what should we do?”
I look at the fish, pulling in so hard. Who knows about fish, I wonder. I mention asking our local park ranger.
“Yeah, Mom, let’s do it!”
“But it’s after 5 o’clock, they’ve all gone home.”
“I got it Mom, let’s call David!” We saw David yesterday for Pat’s mouth injury. David is our pediatrician. He’s hip, broadly informed and approachable.
“Yeah, Willie. He does know a lot.”
It dawns on me. This situation is up to us. I gulp. “Willie, how ‘bout we get a stick with a soft tip and we try and get this fish going again?”
Willie and I leap into action. We loosen the beached fish from its sandy hold. It remains prone, on its side, though it is being pushed down creek, slightly. Slowly.
“He’s wounded, Mom, look!” Willie shows me a reddish pink patch under a fin. It still doesn’t explain why the fish is so passive. We gently push the fish along. As we leap from rock to bank to rock to bank again and then into the creek, we wonder: Where did this fish come from, anyway?
We have to work carefully not to get the fish lodged sideways, where its length would outstretch the width of the creek. And still, the fish remains on its side.
We are trying for pockets in the creek where the water is slightly deeper. I am appalled to watch the fish strain in places where the water barely washes over it. The fish raises its head in distress. My eyes are riveted to its air exposed gills.
“Quick, Willie, we have to keep it moving!”
We find a more flexible spot and despite our efforts to direct the fish into the current, it remains quietly prone, sideways, just lying there.
“Mom . . . what about the grate?”
Even if we were to manage to coax the fish along, even moving it under the path, past the Eucalyptus and willow tree, Willie is remembering the barred grate, where the creek dips down under the street.
“He’ll never get through the bars, Mom.”
Willie is right. We look down at the gasping fish. A plan forms.
“Willie, we could go home, get a bucket and a cooler, come back in the car, scoop creek water into the cooler, get the fish into the cooler, and bring the fish to Lake Temescal.” Ecosystems aside, my gut feeling is that we can’t abandon this fish, even if it might eat up all the spawned wildlife in the lake.
“And drop him in the water?”
We jump back on our bikes, speeding fast now. I call out to the fish: “We’ll be right back!”
We cross streets, zoom down sidewalks, speed under freeway and BART overpasses.
“This fish depends on us!” I yell.
Willie inadvertently side-swipes an ivied wall and is down, weeping. Our timetable will need serious adjustment. Something tells me there is a reason for this interruption. I cradle Willie. His jeans are dramatically split down the leg. He has a scratched knee. He bravely remounts his bike and whimpers home. My angling for a re-enthused return to our adventure is a decided no-go. Willie just wants to get home to his dad.
We get back to the house and Bob takes Willie on his lap, listening to our story. He produces a role of electrical tape from under his chair, and adeptly patches up Willie’s pants – the worst of the injury. Willie breathes again. He’s ready to collect our supplies.
We dig around in the basement, find a ten gallon bucket, a cooler and top, and we are off in the car.
We park in the DMV lot. Willie hauls the bucket. I have the cooler and the detachable lid. We run to the creek. To the spot where we left the fish.
We canvas the length of the creek.
We comb the bank of the creek, in case, in a last ditch effort to get to “any place better than this” the fish flipped itself to whatever was to be its fate.
Willie and I are dumb-founded.
“Where’s the fish?”
We see a couple out for an evening stroll. We run up, juggling paraphernalia. “Have you seen a big fish?” we ask breathlessly, stretching out arms.
“No.” But they are impressed – at the very least by our equipment. I launch into our tale. They listen politely and nod. Willie and I remain stunned. We race along the creek in disbelief. I am secretly relieved. Now I won’t have to struggle with the haunted horror of tampering with Lake Temescal’s fragile ecosystem just to honor my boy’s childhood.
But where’s the fish?
“This feels like a dream,” Willie offers as we gaze into the creek, with the green grass so vivid in the low light and the ivy so dark and rich.
Willie and I are at the creek the next evening. Willie is riding his bike in the empty parking lot, doing looped motorcycle test drives and skidding on the smooth, white cement walkway. I am sitting in the sun next to the creek, watching a father and his two young children fish with short sticks. Willie is attracted by the sound of murmured voices and parks his bike. He finds a long stick, crouches down across from the dad and begins to fish. The dad looks up, smiles at Willie, and says:
“Any fish in these waters?”
Temescal Creek is a perennial stream, and as such, was highly valued by early settlers. At its mouth, the indigenous Ohlone people (Chochen/Huichin band), and their predecessors, built up a large shellmound on the site of today's Emeryville, the largest and most studied shellmound on the shoreline of San Francisco Bay.
When the area was part of the Peralta's Rancho San Antonio, the site near the shellmound was one of the principal landings for the ranch where their cattle and hides were loaded for shipping. Cattle and other livestock were slaughtered in this vicinity right up through the early 20th century for various meatpacking plants in an area which became known as "Butchertown".
It is believed that Temescal Creek once supported a population of rainbow trout, though urbanization and the damming at Lake Temescal have led to their decline. Archeological evidence indicates that coho salmon were also likely found at one time in the creek.
From: Temescal Creek, Wikipedia
Information about supporting Temescal Creek can be found through Friends of Temescal Creek at: http://www.temescalcreek.org/