Dispatch from the Canyon

"Kay Westerburg excavating wild radish in Glen Canyon." May 25, 2011.

By Murray Schneider

“Neither rain, nor snow, now sleet, nor hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds,” said Friends of Glen Canyon Park volunteer, Mary Huizinga, while rain pelted down on City gardener Randy Zebell’s Rec and Parks truck as it eased its way along Alms Road.

Huizinga had just completed her weekly Wednesday morning canyon stint grooming Glen Canyon, and she now sat in Zebell’s truck, snug and warm, inching her way to a well-deserved break beneath the “owl” tree, a towering eucalyptus that stands only a few feet from the canyon WPA Recreation Center, and serves as a magnet each spring for Glenridge pre-school children who annually search its branches for nesting baby Great Horned Owls.

Mary might have said the same for two other volunteers who had earlier slogged along a slushy and circuitous trail above a seep adjacent to the Glen Canyon boardwalk just east of Islais Creek, one of the Bay Area’s last remaining fresh water creeks.

The volunteers were on route to do battle with invasive wild radish and prickly Italian thistle.

Before their ascent and before the raindrops saturated their rain shells, each had knelt on the canyon’s floor, among Cape ivy and blackberry, attempting to unravel tendrils of mock strawberry that threaded its way in clandestine stalks beneath carpets of ivy.

"Taking a cookie and water break on rainy morning." Gardener Rachel Kesel, volunteers Mary Huizinga, Jean Conner, Kay Westerburg, gardener Randy Zebell and volunteer Steven Uchida.

“This is the first time I’ve seen it here,” said Zebell, a Rec and Parks natural habitats gardener. “Left to its own devices it will spread through the understory.”

Later in the morning, Zebell led his volunteers high above Alms Road where they eventually founds thickets of wild radish smörgåsborded among clumps of thorny thistle. The volunteers began tugging and pulling, stuffing the excavated weeds into yellow pop-up bags that were later emptied into blue tarp and then piled onto a compost heap.

Surveying the growing mound, after an hour-and-a-half, Zebell said, “It’s bigger than it was last week.”

He looked up at the grey sky, water soaking through his blue hooded sweatshirt, and glanced at his wristwatch.

“I didn’t dress for rain,” he said. “It’s quitting time.”

Kay Westerburg, a retired Herbert Hoover middle school teacher, yanked at a bulbous radish trunk. “This is too big,” she said.

“Leave it for next week,” said Zebell. “It’ll take a mattock.”

Zebell, Westerburg and Steven Uchida, a retired United States postal worker, collected their belongings, picked up their patched pop-up bags and began the descent back down the marshy path. Mud sucked at their soles of their work shoes and the cuffs of their pants clung to their legs.

“Careful,” Zebell called, “It’s mucky.” Zebell, a steward of the Glen Park 60-acre open space, passed a tree he had reintroduced to the habitat a few weeks before and gestured to the volunteers. He pointed to sprouting leaves. “See. It’s grown already.”

The group stepped onto the boardwalk as a dog walker passed, a St. Bernard lumbering in her wake.

The volunteers piled into the Zebell’s truck and drove back along Alms Road. They could hear a sparrow’s song and the rhymes of children on an outing, impervious to the rain.

Beneath the “owl” tree, the volunteers devoured a bag of cookies and sipped water from a thermos perched on the tailgate of Zebell’s truck. They stood together for a while in companionable conversation, recounting the day’s efforts until, until, one-by-one, each slipped away to the mid-day warmth of their own homes.

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