too many words by laura lemay

running birds lampposts and -- what's that smell?

I’ve been running a lot lately, because its been too cold and wet and dark for bicycling, and because I like running, and because even after a whole lot of tries I still, still haven’t accepted the fact that my body just doesn’t want me to run. I run, and I wake up the next day in a lot of pain. And yet I still keep running. I am either charmingly stubborn, or a complete dumbass (vote below).

I run a lot at sunrise on the Sunnyvale baylands, a sequence of levees that run next to the marshes and sloughs and reclamation ponds on the south end of the San Francisco Bay. The levees are flat, and there is grass, and birds, and its quiet. It sounds kind of pleasant, doesn’t it. It all sounds so much nicer than saying I actually run on long flat muddy mounds of dirt alongside giant vats of open sewage. Which is what “reclamation pond” actually means. I had no idea. The stench is amazing. When they turn on the pumps and the “reclamation” — whatever that actually means — gets going….O.M.G. And I’ve only been running it since October, when its been cold. I am thinking that when it gets to be above about 65 degrees I’m going to have to find someplace else to run.

But for now the levees are nice. Mostly. They are actually really pretty, mostly. Its really quiet out there when the sun comes up, and you can see all the way around the bay from the bridges in the north, the grassy hills in the east and the mountains to the south and west. All the hills are really green right now and the sun splashes golden on them as it rises.

And then there are the shore birds. I’ve never seen so many different birds. There are the usual ducks and seagulls and canada geese, birds I’m used to from everywhere, but on the levees there are also lots and lots of birds I’ve always thought of as more uncommon — or have never even seen before at all. Huge white fluffy egrets I get to see up close as I run by. Big groups of painted wood ducks. Great Blue Herons, lots and lots and GBHs, flying low overhead and strolling through the weeds in the shallows. Loons that watch me warily, swim alongside me as I run and then dive under the water and vanish. White birds and grey birds and swimming birds and wading birds. When I was out there yesterday there was a big red-tail hawk that was sitting on one of the light poles. When I got within ten feet of him he leaned out into the water, stretched his neck out to the front, his tail way out to the back, then spread his wings and flew out over one of the ponds, circled back and lit on one of the poles about fifty feet ahead of me. When I got up to ten feet he did it again, and then the third time he got smart and circled back behind me to the first pole.

The light poles are about fifty feet apart all around the levees. I’ve been trying to figure out just what they’re for (besides, well, light). They’re big old-fashioned industrial lamps from the 40’s, with opaque glass shades covering the bulbs and then metal guards for the glass. The metal was painted at one time but has weathered and chipped and stained from rust over the years. They’re gorgeous, in an antique industrial urban decay kind of way. They have plates on them that say they were made by Westinghouse. Some of the light poles have big metal boxes attached to the bases, and inside the boxes, under an overhang away from the weather there is a row of three big buttons: two black, and one red. The buttons are unlabelled. I get this insane itch to press the buttons. Three buttons? There is some option for a light pole besides on and off? This drives me out of my mind. Also bothersome: some of the light poles are turned on. Some are not. Is there a pattern? Are some just burned out?

I get this Myst-like sensation from the light poles and the buttons, like I’m supposed to press the buttons and turn the lights on and off in some sort of sequence, and if I get the pattern right then a giant mechanical whale will rise up from the pond and sing me eight notes and I have to remember what those notes are and the order because sometime years from now I will need those notes to….you know, make the house rotate or something. Its very important.

Also on my run there is a radar tower. Its one of those towers you see in movies with the bit on the top that goes around and around. I wondered the first time I saw it what on earth there would be radar out on the bay for. It is not like the terrorists are going to come and invade us through the bay (“we’ve come for your sewage”). I thought maybe it was weather radar but I can’t find it listed in the NWS list of weather radar stations. Moffett Field (former navy airbase) is right nearby, but presumably they have their own radar. It is a puzzlement. Anyone? Anyone?

To sum up, on my run I have many interesting things to look at and many things to think about ( Now if I could run the entire three mile loop around the levees while holding my breath, that would be perfect.