27
Dec
15

Facelift?

After a long while, I made another visit to Byxbee Park in Palo Alto yesterday, which is now much larger than before but also quite bleak.

2015-12-26 12.34.14

The parts of the garbage dump that were opened more recently are large, unnatural, and unnaturally bald mounds that loom over the more attractively sculpted hills closest to the bay. The work is not quite done, and some of the slopes are just plain clay with pipes and other machinery sticking up at regular intervals.

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You can get a better workout now that the place is larger, but it used to be more human scale. It was unkempt, but more inviting. I sort of miss the quirky old art installations that have been removed. No more midden-hillocks for the ground squirrels to turn into Swiss cheese. The methane flare-off has disappeared, and the “keyhole” laid out in shellfish around it has been erased. The shellfish paths have been paved over. Weird rivers of rock have been added. The chevrons have been made severely straight.

On the positive side, the trails over the dump connect to the trails through the salt marsh behind it, so you can enter from the frontage road along the 101. Also, birds still love the place. Some of the views are stunningly beautiful.

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You can still surprise a hare hopping quietly along the trail.

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And people come here to do unusual things, like the two guys  exercising their bald eagle.

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It may not be natural, but it’s better that someone cares enough to rescue it and do what can be done.

07
Dec
15

One Advancing Glacier

I visited Corinda los Trancos, the Half Moon Bay landfill, in 2009 and received a nice tour of the dump, which is wedged high up on the hillsides above Half Moon Bay. But I was not allowed to take pictures. (See The Glacier of Corinda los Trancos for the earlier blog entry.)

So I had to grab my chance when I spied it from a plane flying into San Francisco airport. Excuse the poor quality of the image.

corindaThe dump is the “scar” on between two hillside, pretty much in the center of the image. A declivity between two ridges is being filled with waste, much like a glacier would fill a valley. Only this one doesn’t retreat as the climate heats up.

For locals .. in the foreground you see Crystal Springs reservoir, with the 92 cutting across it. Sticking out into the Pacific you can just make out Pillar Point.

27
Nov
15

Tower of Garbage

I snapped another landfill from a plane a few days ago, this one immediately west of the Denver airport.

tower landfillThis dump is active, and so the only information I could dig up on it is that it is operated by Republic Services. Opening hours are from 8:00 – 5:00 daily (except for Black Friday). Perhaps one of these days I can find time to visit and make an offering of trash. (If you visit a garbage dump without bringing garbage, you are instantly suspect, in my experience, and likely to be denied entry.)

It looks to be about 5000 feet East to West and about 2500 feet North to South. And it appears to be quite tall. A hundred feet?  It’s tempting to think it is called Tower landfill because it is a towering heap, but common sense tells me it takes its name from Tower Road, which is its official address.

The garbage engineers appear to be building a nearly perfect pyramid. Perhaps a future civilization will dig up the mummy within and put it in a museum.

05
Oct
14

Official History

A few weeks ago, shortly after take-off from New York’s JKF,  I looked out of my airplane porthole and saw an unmistakable garbage dump, on a spit of land sticking out like a hitch hiker’s thumb into a wide river. I just managed to snap a picture before it was lost from view. The stylized shape and the unnatural parched grass cover are each a dead giveaway, as are the straight trails following the precise angles of this man-made hill.

croton point focus

Croton Point landfill. Click to see a larger image.

A little scouting on Google Maps and Google Earth showed this to be the centerpiece of Croton Point Park, in Westchester. It lies just north of Ossining, within view of the famed Sing Sing prison. A history of the park explains that the point has served its humble purpose for a long time: it was once a Native American oyster shell midden. Started as early as 7000 years ago, it is apparently the oldest shell mound found on the East Coast. The official history does not mention that the current park is laid out on top of a more modern garbage dump. That silence is also part of the perennial landfill pattern. Native American garbage, less noxious to start with, has been purified by time. Our own garbage is a different matter altogether and is still unmentionable.

I do wonder how it happens. Perhaps someone wrote a history that referred to the dump and was made to erase all reference to it by reviewers who were afraid to scare off the public? Or did the writer not even think to include it? Judging by my own experience of group encounters with the less ideal contours of reality, either of these possibilities is thoroughly plausible.

The New York Times manages this negotiation with the unpleasant just a little bit better in a 1990 article about an exhibition of local folk tales: “MONEY HILL is no longer shown on any Westchester map, and if it once was haunted the witches have fled the old knoll on Croton Point. The Indian trinkets and pirate gold reputed to be buried there – which gave the hill its name – will not be found now. The site is buried under the thousands of tons of waste that cover what is now a landfill.”

Just two years earlier, the news was even more explicit: “THE 600 acres of Croton Point once formed one of the largest tidal marshes on the Hudson River. After 50 years as the site of an active county dump, however, the area is judged by environmentalists to be a health hazard. A Federal judge last month called the landfill, which was closed in 1986, an environmental time bomb.” Again we are grateful to the New York Times in reporting on several lawsuits over toxic waste and possible groundwater pollution from the site. Imagine the poisoned plume that spreads from what must be an unlined dump, old as it is.

That’s why I love garbage, repulsive as it is. No matter how much it is hidden, erased, or denied, it sticks around, stubbornly bearing witness to what we most like to forget.

18
Feb
12

The Garbage Times: Bordo Poniente Closes

Bordo Poniente Landfill

Bordo Poniente, on the Penon-Texcoco Highway, Mexico city

The New York Times reported that Mexico City’s landfill Bordo Poniente has recently closed. City trash would now be trucked out to more distant dumps, it was planned. And the 1500 “pepenadores” (rag pickers) who made a living off the open face have negotiated a deal with the city that they would man the transfer station.

Want to know what it was like to work on the dump? Check out the video.

The Huffington Post was able to add that the plan didn’t quite work out: the distant dumps didn’t have the slightest desire to cooperate. Garbage has been piling up in the city in the meantime.

07
Feb
12

In the Foothills

In Chicagoland, the major garbage range is formed by the Calumet Mountains. Very impressive, and I’ve written about them before in Connecting the Dots. But today I had reason to be in Dolton, Illinois, which doesn’t happen every day. Dolton lies in the foothills of the Calumets, south-south-west more or less.

View from Needles Park

Dolton is not exactly a metropolis. It has a 70s-style diner, a discount store, a Western Union, liquor stores and launderettes, miles of chain-link fence, smothered chicken at the Samichez take-out, lots of blowing trash, more than a fair share of resignation, and a highly unnatural stench in the raw air. And of course a very large pile of trash butting up to Cottage Grove Lake and the baseball diamond at Needles Park.

In his essay Disneyland with the Death Penalty, William Gibson says, “Ordinarily, confronted with a strange city, I look for the parts that have broken down and fallen apart, revealing the underlying social mechanisms; how the place is really wired beneath the lay of the land as presented by the Chamber of Commerce.” I get that. It feels as if far more is revealed in the rubble and dust than in the buff and polish of the showcase avenues. There’s the wear and tear of history, the stresses that spring from lived reality, the cracks that open under the weight of grief.

But what to make of a place where there is nothing but fracture? Where the Chamber of Commerce has lit out of town long ago and there is no lay of the land to look beneath? Where the wiring is kaput and the chemicals that make everywhere else so prosperous, shiny bright, and bug free are all on the surface–and in the air and the ground and the water?

What to do when understanding is not sufficient to the challenge on the ground?

27
Jan
11

Preparing for the Climate Bomb

Suzanne Huskey's hedgehog sleeper cell

One of Suzanne Huskey’s “sleeper cells” looks like a petrified hedgehog on runners, but in fact it is a refuge for the environmental apocalypse or perhaps a dream house for the back-to-nature set. It has a door and two windows, and it proclaims a moderate right to privacy by means of those woody spines.

The other one has a loftier mien, looking like the bastard child of the Apollo 14 space capsule and a Jetson’s spaceship. Though it has a general air of waiting to lift off, the capsule has only got a few undersize casters by way of a power train.

And her Apollo Jetson capsule

Though they allude to the dreary cold war bomb shelters of an earlier age, the sleeper cells really are the funny, sunny alter egos to those earlier monuments to a crazed humanity. Every bit of these two shelters was salvaged from the discards streaming into the San Francisco transfer station, housewares included, during Huskey’s stint as artist in residence. Super bona fides, and perhaps also doubly useful in an age of endless foreclosures.

More about Huskey’s architectural ventures on her own website.




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