Confluence - Asphalt
May 2017
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The rains this year brought urban inundations and roadway collapses. Snow pack is near a high point for recent decades, reservoirs are brimming, releasing water into rivers, the state just ended mandatory conservation rules and water delivery costs are rising. Water is a festival in space and time: where and how much are critical but seasonal timing and irregular fluctuations are as important to California ecosystems as predictability and consistency are to human uses.
Meadows, roadways, rock, soil, water, grasses, trees, the pathways of people and things converge with their own logic into overlapping and mixed forms. In the Berkeley hills, water shed from an asphalt roadway is augmented by runoff from an adjacent meadow; with the rains, a stream forms, gradually impressing its own hydro-logic on the ensemble.
Gutter-puddle reminding ducks of a pond reminds me of a poem:
"Does the bowl in the garden mock nature when night after night green frogs gather to prove it's a pool?"

It's from the Chinese writer Han Yu, 768-824   (See Sunflower Splendor, Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry, and Mountain Songs.)
Water moves through cities and many peculiar conditions result -- as one might generate choosing blindly for a tie and shirt. Creeks around the East Bay emerge and disappear, sometimes running in parallel open and piped channels. On this map of a section of Oakland, blue lines represent open creeks, green are creeks that have been filled or rerouted; dotted lines are underground pipes and red lines open, concrete channels. Filled and paved, the former estuary, lower right, is now spotted with industrial buildings and a freeway. In coming decades, such areas will likely become tidal again, rhythmically inundated by the Bay. What hybrid estuary will the remaining buildings endow? Perhaps such realities are already acknowledged when a creek can be named "54th Avenue Creek."
Map redrawn from Oakland Creek and Watershed Map, Oakland Museum of California.

Asphalt can have a remote and placid beauty. But its influences are also profound, enabling the brisk rearrangement of people and things across the land, while modifying local biological systems, redirecting water, changing surface temperatures and habitat pathways for animals and plants.

Fallen leaves no longer replenish soil below the trees that produced them. Instead, we collect and drive those leaves to recycling centers, then return some other plant's wood chips to the base of the trees.

As speeds increased with vehicle and roadway innovations, traffic striping and structures have added additional layers to the experience of spaces.  (see  Ways of the World: a History of the World's Roads and of the Vehicles That Used Them)

Movement and time, the subjective playing out of relationships, is at the core of life. Every moment another negotiation between duration and change, shape, size, boundary and connection, material and desire. The roadway markings of this project are made through these newsletters and in drawing. Drawings of the last two years done at field stations and in my home studio are at the Marin Headlands National Park Service Visitor Center. The exhibition is the subject of a conversation published recently on ARTiciple. Sales of that work help me continue to develop the Confluence projects. Please consider buying one should you have an interest.

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For an introduction to the Confluence projects, see my page at

All images are by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

Copyright © 2017 Todd Gilens, All rights reserved.

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