Oakland Estuary — A Sense of Place

For fifteen years until late 2016 I lived just a couple of minutes' walk from Oakland Estuary. It was a constant, everyday, and welcome presence in my life all that time, whether I was crossing it on my way to work or to do some shopping in Alameda, or walking or cycling along its shores, or watching a barge being tugged under the (open) Park Street Bridge late at night, or exploring Oakland's Inner Harbor and the Port of Oakland on my bike. I loved the (very changeable) light on and around the water; I loved the way that, even with encroaching gentrification, it was still very much a working waterway with everything from small fishing boats and tugs and barges to huge container ships on it; and I loved the way so many people found ways to enjoy themselves on or around it — kayaks, sculls, rowing fours and eights, sailing boats, the parks and walking trails, etc. I still miss the place years later.

The Estuary basically stretches from San Leandro Bay in the east to San Francisco Bay in the west; it's what keeps the island of Alameda apart from Oakland (to their mutual advantage :-)). It's not particularly long or wide — maybe six or seven miles long at most, and no more than a few hundred yards wide — but it spans the gamut from mudflats and marinas to a large container port (the Port of Oakland), with everything in between from cement and recycling plants and grain silos to small shipyards and boatyards to a major Coast Guard base. Plus it's got a couple of absolutely classic 1920's-era drawbridges across it; both of these are still active, and it's a real treat watching them open for barge and other traffic on the water.

In the last couple of decades, the Estuary shores have started to become heavily gentrified (the sheds on the left in the photo above that used to house artists and craft people were pulled down and replaced by generic lifestyle condos in the mid-2000's, for example), and some of the grittier bits have disappeared completely, but it's still a working waterway, it's still a place where you can see a fragile-looking rowing eight sharing the waterway with a large ocean-going tug, or see the morning commute stopped dead for fifteen minutes by the Park Street drawbridge opening for an enormous cement barge going by serenely beneath it.

The photos here are snapshots I took over the fifteen years I lived just off the Estuary, often on my way to or from work. There are some obvious themes and obsessions or riffs here, and  I can't possibly claim this is an extensive or fair view of the place, but it does reflect what caught my eye, either on the water, or on the Estuary shore…

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