In the pacific Pacific

by Joel Pomerantz

August 10th, 2019

It was an easy sea day, like a swimming pool. Pacific, in fact. So quiet, we could hear leaping anchovies at 50 yards! They sounded and looked like rain.

It’s been almost 38 years since I arrived in SF. Thanks to Joanna McClure, I finally got a chance, August 9th, to take a natural history field trip to the Farallones islands!

A couple dozen people went, led by the nature education superstar Michael Ellis. In another first, I got to hang out with him a bit. I can now confirm that […]

Size of the Pacific…& Where Is SF?

by Joel Pomerantz

November 15th, 2018

How much of the earth is covered with the Pacific Ocean? It’s big. If you stand at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and want to point to the far shore of the ocean, you could point out to sea.

But we can think of it another way. To point through the globe to the far shore, you’d point to the sand one stride ahead of you. The Pacific is that big. You could reasonably say it goes almost all the way to the other side of the world.

If you are, say, […]

Albino Ladybug Lays Eggs…On Me

by Joel Pomerantz

August 7th, 2018

All sorts of things happen, out exploring the city. This time what happened was yellow, squishy and nearly microscopic.

I’m deeply sorry I didn’t get a photo. The ladybug visitor was light brown and creamy white, similar to the one shown in the upper right of this stock photo. From what I find on the internet, this means it’s some sort of albino. But there’s a bit of a gap in the internet’s awareness of this topic, like so many that I have an interest in exploring.

When she landed on me, […]

Leaping Frog Fungus!

by Joel Pomerantz

January 5th, 2015

I just learned more about why the project to get rid of the preggie test frogs has been failing. Which frogs? The African clawed frogs that live in Golden Gate Park in the Lily Pond. Apparently they were dumped there as a gesture of goodwill.

Back in the 50s rabbits were all the rage for pregnancy tests. A pregnant woman’s urine would cause the rabbit to ovulate. Problem was that you had to kill the rabbit to find the result. Then bufo marine toads and African clawed frogs were found to […]

Atmospheric River Meditation in SF

by Joel Pomerantz

December 13th, 2014

Here’s my 7-minute storm video, meditative and exploratory rather than my usual strict documentation.

San Francisco was blasted by a few inches of rain in a single day on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. It was an ‘atmospheric river’ (AR) blasting at the coast like a fire hose. These “rivers” contain as much water as many Mississippis, wafting through the air about a mile above the sea from the equatorial region beyond Hawai’i.

This one first blasted Canada and then Washington, then Oregon, then us (in essEFF), then Southern California.

I’ve been researching the […]

Atwater’s Geology Talk—Lecture Notes

by Joel Pomerantz

October 25th, 2014

Living in the Plate Boundary and Through the Ice Ages

Geologist and plate tectonics animator Tanya Atwater presented a talk with the title above to our Natural History Series talks at the Randall Museum October 16, 2014.

The presentation was largely based on diagrammatic animation videos which these notes cannot describe. But you can see them yourself on Atwater’s website (or you can Google ‘Atwater animations’). I wasn’t as able to take notes as thoroughly as usual since my eyes were up on the video screen a lot.

The surface of the earth is […]

Clementine’s Little Sister

by Joel Pomerantz

June 25th, 2014

I was in a canyon in the Gold Country last weekend, at the Yuba River researching my usual, the storm of 1862. And going for a nice swim. The Bridgeport covered bridge has signs saying it was built to replace the one washed away by the storm.

I marveled at the beauty of the canyon, saw a sign about gold panning regulations and found myself singing, “In a cavern, in a canyon, excavating for a mine….” I suddenly wondered, Is this song about the flood!? Is this yet another clue to […]

Photo Essay: Beautiful Noplace

by Joel Pomerantz

June 24th, 2014

Do you realize how fun exploring is? It is for me! I just returned from a wildernessy road trip to places with no name. It was that remote. Okay, not as far away as my fantasy places to go canoeing on the Canadian Shield, but remote enough to stumble across artifacts which have been sitting untouched for longer than the West has been part of the USA.

If you want to see some pictures from that trip to NW Nevada and NE California, scroll down in this article. If you want […]

Mistaken Tunnel

by Joel Pomerantz

March 14th, 2014

Here’s an image of the lighthouse back when it was more interesting. [only visible in full article]

Once again, I get to bask in the glory of being wrong.

In my post to everyone on the Thinkwalks mailing list, twice, I said that a tunnel goes out to the Mile Rock Lighthouse.

I’ve learned I’m totally incorrect. It’s a sewer tunnel, not lighthouse access. I fabricated, without realizing it.

I feel 100% certain my contact at DPW told me that it goes to Mile Rock, which I may have assumed meant Mile […]

Bay Bridge Construction Sketches 1935

by Joel Pomerantz

September 12th, 2013

I found this rare and out of print book of sketches by William Woollett from 1935. It includes a handful from the original construction of the Bay Bridge East Span. Since we’re celebrating an almost wondrous new structure there, I thought I’d make these available to everyone.

I don’t know how to use WordPress light box. So just click twice on each picture to see the enlarged version. Then use your browser’s back button to get to the next picture. Bad. Easier: They’re all together on my Flickr page.

William Woollett also […]

Participants in many of my water walking tours have consistently told me I must go see the basement of the Armory.

I finally did!

The building’s current owner, porn company Kink.com, gives studio tours that include a brief visit to the sub-basement. There, where many channels of water flow in rough concrete trenches, they tell us we’re looking at Mission Creek.

Our Kink.com guides, Odile and Miguel, were excited to see the official map of historic waterways in the Mission District that I’d brought along.

They noted the tributary creek that once ran past […]

We tried to put the creek into our mural. Mona sketched it on paper. Seth painted it on the wall—three times before getting it the way he liked it, with the street names of the Wiggle bike route shimmering in the water. We carefully mocked reality with brown (Franciscan chert) rocks on the one side of the creek and green (serpentine) on the other side. We even allowed ourselves interpretive license when we colored it in crayon blues.

When we designed the mural (1996 & ’97) I […]

The Earth did the Wiggle!

by Joel Pomerantz

August 24th, 2011

My mom, Joan Straumanis, arrived home in DC just in time to feel the surprising 5.9 quake. It was the first earthquake she ever felt and she had this to say about it:

Where was I during the earthquake? In the bathroom at National Airport, just after returning from Boston. Many people around me were alarmed. But to be honest, I thought it was more exciting than frightening. It was actually sort of gentle, and different from what I had imagined: more rocking than shaking, and inspiring—to think of […]

Keep those awards comin’!

by Joel Pomerantz

July 28th, 2011

Looks like it’s the season for awards, and we’re knee-deep in them over here at Thinkwalks.

This week, the San Francisco Bay Guardian gave Thinkwalks its freshly minted “Best of the Bay: Best Cerebral Stroll” Editor’s Pick Award.

Joel Pomerantz has a lot of nerve asking people to think and walk at the same time. He also has a lot of nerd. In fact, he bills his ThinkWalks — designed especially for locals — as “nerdy tours for San Franciscans.”

And last week it was the Awesome Foundation for the […]

New SF Lake Discovered

by Joel Pomerantz

April 28th, 2011

As mentioned in my previous post, the access to old articles has increased amazingly. And that access helped me to break this story.

Or at least rediscovered…

A 25-acre Phelps’ Lake in San Francisco’s Panhandle?

I’ve just solved a mystery described in my previous research on the south area of Divisadero street. Back when it was a winding path through the dunes, Devisadero, as it was known, connected the Mission Dolores to the Presidio. The incorrect story had settled into this version over the years: San Souci Lake, located at Divisadero […]

Carl Nolte is Secret Love Child of Father Palou?

by Joel Pomerantz

February 22nd, 2011

New rumors about Mission Dolores history have hit the papers!

In addition to Hadley’s post at Mission Local, mentioned in my previous entry, which breaks the story with a perfect synopsis of the latest research, Carl Nolte has, over the weekend, published an article printed on real paper—front page above the fold and in color in Saturday’s Chronicle. It’s a little confusing, since the headline, along with the map Nolte presents and the article itself all incorrectly state that the Mission may have been founded north of Market Street near Duboce […]

ARkStorm’s science challenge

by Joel Pomerantz

January 17th, 2011

Since the Big Summit last week, ARkStorm has been getting a lot of press. Most of the coverage has been simply warning the public that a Big One could happen in the form of a superstorm, rather than a quake. The public interest is generally portrayed as being strictly about natural hazard emergency response.

Official preparation is certainly important. Information about the science and history of storms also needs to be emphasized. In fact, it’s in some ways even more important for the public to understand the implications in context, than […]

Reports from the Storm—Part 1

by Joel Pomerantz

January 4th, 2011

In my diggings concerning the bizarre month-long storm of 1861 and 1862, I’ve come across exciting tidbits. Some, such as the gold country rains of more than nine feet depth in one month (!) are shocking enough. However, nothing has been so exciting as reading words written in the midst of it, each more dire than the previous.

Leland Stanford was apparently forced to take a boat through the streets of Sacramento just to attend his own inaguration as Governor of California. Here's the speech he gave, as reprinted […]

Revolutionary Politician Meets Revolutionary Artist

by Joel Pomerantz

December 27th, 2010

San Francisco is lucky to have a significant share of the remarkable art and architecture produced by the New Deal’s financial support programs. Beniamino Bufano, a sculptor who lived in San Francisco, produced a number of these pieces that are now displayed in San Francisco, where he lived for many years. But some of his most unusual sculpture was privately commissioned, such as the steel and stone statue of Sun Yat Sen in St. Mary’s Square Park at the corner of California Street & Grant Avenue.

Bufano usually used an easily-recognized […]

Taming the Weather with Intrepid Wigglers

by Joel Pomerantz

December 15th, 2010

Take a look at this luck!

As always, I held off on canceling the tour on Tuesday. I hoped there would be a gap in the rain. I was right, but more than right, I was using a weather prediction system for local San Francisco short-term planning that I’ve now tested enough to share around. Feel free to pass the link along.

The tour ended at 2pm. At 2:20, this is how the oncoming rain looked, sweeping in from the west. Good timing!

The tour only had six people, but they […]

It’s Fun to Discover (that I was wrong)

by Joel Pomerantz

December 9th, 2010

This post is a confession—actually a whole confessional litany. I told untruths. Yes. Me. I know, I know: never trust me again! I’ll list them in a moment so you can adjust what you learned on one of my tours accordingly.

Friend and Thinkwalks volunteer Nancy Botkin told me the other day that it’s strangely easy to change my mind about an “objective fact.” All you need to do is give me careful evidence of something that contradicts what I used to adamantly believe. I flip from saying I’m sure the […]

San Souci Roadhouse

by Joel Pomerantz

December 3rd, 2010

Maps are so unreliable. Even when they are well drawn—which hilly places never were before the advent of contour lines in the 1850s—they don’t necessarily have a key telling useful details. Sometimes a map shows what a place has or had, or what the mapmaker thought was once there. All too often, though not captioned as ‘fantasy’, they tell what someone wishes to encourage into existence in the future. (“Please invest!”)

On my tours I almost always refer to the Lower Haight neighborhood and Panhandle area of San Francisco as “San […]

Podcast of Watersheds Panel

by Joel Pomerantz

November 19th, 2010

The recent (November 17) Shaping SF panel discussion at CounterPULSE was recorded and is posted here. If it’s been topped by more recent podcasts, search or scroll to “Watersheds Lost and Found: San Francisco, Guadalajara, Yuba.”

Me swimming at the South Yuba River

My part of it was the San Francisco part, of course, and I was joined by Derek Hitchcock of the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), and Sarah Kelly and Arthur Richards, co-directors of Adapting to Scarcity.

The Q&A was excellent and helped me to formulate my long-term […]

Haight Ashbury Map and Guide

by Joel Pomerantz

November 9th, 2010

In the mid 1990s, I helped create two pieces of printed matter that I had no idea would hit it off one day. With each other.

Strange, but true: Stannous Flouride’s Star Map of the Haight and 409 House’s Directory of Local Services found one another, fourteen years later, and got hitched. The resulting Haight Ashbury Map & Guide is the latest incarnation of a long history of local resource guides and maps.

Stan approached me about producing his first handmade “Star Map” of the Haight, and I helped him get the […]

Laguna Honda watershed

by Joel Pomerantz

November 8th, 2010

Check out what interesting stuff I’ve sleuthed up for the “trek” I’m leading with Nature in the City on November 14th.

The tour will start in Golden Gate Park, because since the late 1800s, the Laguna Honda watershed has been a main source of water for irrigation of the Park.

The creation of the irrigation system happened at the time when the Park was being entirely re-configured. Development of Golden Gate Park had been firmly within the “rustic” aesthetic of William Hammond Hall. Then railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington gave funds to […]

The San Souci Lake–Pioche Mystery

by Joel Pomerantz

October 19th, 2010

A report spreads for decades but makes no sense. How intriguing and frustrating. In a newspaper column from (unconfirmed date) April, 1919, Edward Morphy says that the lake in my neighborhood was destroyed by the 1862 storms with which I am so intrigued. But the detail given makes absolutely no sense. Says Morphy:

…probably the best known landmark of Divisadero street in the pioneer days was the old San Souci roadhouse which stood on the east side of a pretty little lake that then filled the space from Fulton to about […]

Volunteering with Thinkwalks

by Joel Pomerantz

June 23rd, 2010

In the recent past, a number of folks have generously volunteered their time to help with publicity, research, social networking, design and other aspects of Thinkwalks. If you have an idea of how you’d like to help, please let me know.

Some of the clear needs at the moment are for people to help compile information either from bibliographies or from very old news articles on the Great Storm and Flood. And to distribute (to cafés) the wonderful flyers Martina D’Alessandro designed in her volunteer gig. Also, there’s a volunteer design […]

Gold Street, a one block alley in the Jackson Square District, still has many of its original brick buildings from the 1850s, largely spared by earthquakes and fires. Fifty-six Gold Street at the corner of Balance Street can, in a way, claim notoriety as the location that started the Gold Rush.

It was an assay office. This is a place to which the government distributed standard gold and silver coins used for measuring the bullion, coins, dust, ore or nuggets coming in from the gambling parlors, banks and—eventually—gold mines. The comparisons […]

The Niantic: Ship, Spring, Store, Hotel

by Joel Pomerantz

June 18th, 2010

When gold was discovered in California there was no crossroads at Sansome and Clay Streets because in 1848 that was the shore of San Francisco Bay. It was an undulating and sandy shoreline, with large drifting dunes.

As soon as word of gold got out to the world, uncountable ships full of fortune-seekers slogged across the seven seas, all headed here. Many hundreds of them were abandoned in—and quickly filled up—the small harbor, called Yerba Buena Cove. Crew and passengers rushed off to the Sierra hoping for riches. This left the […]

The Washington Square Theater By Any Other Name

by Joel Pomerantz

June 18th, 2010

(1741 Powell at Columbus and Filbert)

Some would-be luminaries are ignored by history simply because they were too close to a greater brilliance that distracted the crowds. Others go unsung due to their beauty being internal, invisible to the casual observer. The Washington Square Theater, a once-ornate movie palace on the west side of the Square, suffered both these insults and eventually met its doom.

It sits empty, and has for more than a decade.

Certainly millions of photos have been taken of the buildings that line Washington Square—the northeast sides of the […]