February 8, 2015





So anyway, a real dockwalloper swept over the Island at the end of this past week, making us remember that what we in NorCal miss in cold temperatures, we earn in double payback via precipitation. Because the weather waits so long between storms, the earth sort of relaxes into that carefree California let-it-ride attitude. Then, the earth gets suddenly pounded by the drums of Wagner's Valkries and powerlines go down, trees uproot and entire hillsides slide away taking with them fences, houses, freeways and entire bowling alleys.

We hear that Norwegian Hafthor Bjornsson broke a world record last week that, had stood for 1,000 years. What did he do? He took five steps while carrying a log over 30 feet long that weighed 1,433 pounds. The legend of the Icelander Orm Storulffson says that he walked three steps with this monster wooden log which weighed over 650kg and was 10m long. Hafthor carried the 650kg and 10m log for 5 steps.

So supposedly the record was meant for years to be an exhortation for Norwegian kids to clean up their dinner plate so as grow up to be big and strong.

"But mom! It tastes like soap!"

"Clean that plate if you want to be strong as mighty Orm Storulffson!"

"O ma! It stinks!"

"Shut up yer whinin' or there will be no more roving for you."

People may not know that the world's most impressive strongman feat took place right here in California. Alonso Seville de Espadrille was a merchant mariner and strongman back in the final days of the Spanish colonial conquest of Alta California. He often was called upon to reset the ship's mainmast His Royal Majesty. He would do this by grabbing the mast in a bear hug and lifting the entire mast, together with topgallant and crowsnest, long enough for shipwrights to fix the mounting chocks below decks. Then he would ease the entire thing down and when it had settled, he would go have a beer.

People wondered from where this 400 pound giant of a man had come, and some said Seville, and some said, no, the Pyrenees rock mountains, and others said Pamplona. In truth, he was a mixture of Spanish and Azteca and Yoruba of Africa, so he was a man made entirely of the New World.

This may explain why he stood a full six feet seven inches in height among a people that generally attained no more than five four at the most. He claimed he drew his strength from the Blessed Virgin, and to emulate her practiced the most steadfast chastity himself. When he would see a group of lovely senoritas strolling down the boulevard, and they would flirt with him, he would quite often grab an ox cart and hurl it into a garden over the fence -- together with the surprised oxen -- out of what one supposes was sheer boyish exuberance.

In any case it may be because of his vow of abstinence he decided to journey up to Alta California with the explorers looking for a good seaport, as Alta California was a place to which decent womenfolk seldom journeyed for all the hardship and lack of culture. This was understandable as the Mexican senoritas in those days were dangerously hot blooded and of fiery temper. This may no longer be true, but who can say?

So Alonso set out with an expedition, beginning first by sea around the tip of Baja and then up to San Diego and then to El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles, which now bears a shorter name, and thence to the splendid place that later would be called the Bay of Monterrey, which turned out to be less of a Bay than a sort of wishful arc that would be a Bay had it only tried harder before giving up.

he . . . threw his arms around the bear

From there the expedition, let by Padre Junipero mi Siempre and the soldier Juan Sebastian Pato, the expedition marched north overland to find the perfect Bay and having many adventures along the way as they mapped the landscape while the schooner tacked along off the coast, charting the seafront. At one camp a group of brown bears came down to nose among the packs and perhaps nosh on a few oxen, while the intrepid explorers all fled shrieking into the night bushes. Save for Alonso who greeted the largest of the grizzlies like an old friend. And like an old friend the grizzly, who stood easily seven feet tall and weighed well over 1500 pounds greeted Alonso with a fierce bearhug, which Alonso took to be a mark of affection, so he too threw his arms around the bear and hugged him back just as fiercely. The grizzly howled and racked the back of Alonso's armor-plated back and Alonso obliged by raking his own fingernails through the tangled mat of the grizzly as a comrade. The grizzly tossed down his great head and chomped on Alonso's shoulder and Alonso did the same until the big leviathan of the mountains staggered back and sat down in great distress and defeat with a sigh.

"Don't be sad brother!," Alonso said. "Enjoy life!" And so he grabbed an ox and tore it in half and gave its haunch to the grizzly and he roasted some for himself and they all sat down there and had a great time for an hour or two until Alonso led the grizzly pack off into the wilderness where they roistered for several days before Alonso came back and rejoined the expedition, a bit bashful at all the fuss.

Coming up from the place known as Pacifica, the expedition encountered steep bluffs and cliffs coming down to the sea. Seeing that clearly there could be no decent bay up front, the party met up with the schooner and sailed out to reconnoiter the coast. Encountering the Farralones they felt grateful at sailing so far distant from such dangerous shoals and so about the meridian of Drake's estuary, cut back in again when they noticed a gathering of birds there with the ominous signs of an impending thunderstorm chasing them into that shallow place.

There the sailors and the expedition made a joint camp with the schooner bobbing a distance away while the nervous local tribe of coastal Miwok observed them from a distance.

Always a friendly guy, Alonso went over to them to make peace. This he did well enough and pretty soon they had found ways to talk to one another, "using hand and foot" as they say. They asked him about the "big canoe with the trees growing in it", by this meaning the schooner and mentioned the on coming storm.

Alonso asked, well, what did they do with their canoes and the headman indicated how they had drawn up the tulerush canoes high up the bank to safety.

Alonso looked at the Schooner, and he looked at the cliffs and then he looked at the schooner again.

Then he asked the Miwok for help and they agreed.

They all went out to the schooner where Alonso weighed anchor while ropes were fastened to the ship. Then they all got into the canoes and started paddling, some 100 or more canoes, pulling the ship toward the beach where a sort of cut made by a stream allowed the ship to ride up close.

Rain began to pelt down at the start of the storm and the ship still was not entirely out of danger with its keel slurping in the deep mud now. So Alonso jumped out of his canoe and motioned for everyone to grab the ropes and pull the ship up higher until its hull would fit snug into the cut. He grabbed the forward rope and began hauling while all the Miwok pulled their boats to safety before running off into the night and, presumably shelter.

He fell down exhausted . . .

So Alonso entirely alone put his great shoulders to tugging the schooner, with each step gaining a foot, but also digging down with his feet into the soft bank until he had made himself a groove into the slope. After hours of this labor he heard the grinding of the hull as it wedged itself into its natural berth at the stream outlet, whose waters flowed merrily past the hull to either side. He fell down exhausted into the swampy groove he had dug for himself and fell asleep.

That night there was a tremendous storm that brought out the sky titans who rolled thunderballs at one another as gales of rain beat down the land and stirred the once placid estuary waters into a rage. Had the ship remained where it had been left, with on mariners on board, it surely would have been destroyed much as what happened to Cermeno, who came to this same cove a bit later in history.

In the morning the expedition awoke, fearing the worst, but to their surprise, they found their ship bobbing safely during high tide at the mouth of a new river that had previously been only a rivulet.

Alonso was nowhere to be found but they made haste to pull the ship back from shore and climb aboard. Numerous extra ropes were found lashed to the ship and trailing idly -- these the men cut loose. One thick hawser ran deep into the sand where a shallow depression marked a place that had been recently filled in by the force of the storm.

The men had no idea what had become of Alonso, but they felt that as expeditions go, they had come out well ahead of some of them and so they all headed back to Mexico City with their maps and their stories.

The legend of Mighty Alonso grew, and the tale of how he had grabbed the hawser in his teeth and dragged the ship doing the backstroke across the estuary got more and more fanciful and how he died fighting off the terrible Kraken, which they could elaborate because of course they had left him behind. And some said he did not die on that beach but climbed up out of his rut there and looked around to find all of his companions gone and so he had settled among the Coastal Miwok whose ladies taught him to put aside all of this foolish chastity business -- wussup with that? -- and so he lived a long life eating oysters and giving the ladies a good time, which is a much better ending, as all can agree.

Then came the ululation of the throughpassing train from far across the water as it trundled from the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their moonlit towers, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the former Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock, its weedy railbed, its chainlink fence interstices until the locomotive click-clacked past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the old Ohlone shellmounds to parts unknown.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.