Coast to coast: flower power or extinction?

San Francisco, California lies some 76 hours south of Whitehorse as the bus travels.

San Francisco, California lies some 76 hours south of Whitehorse as the bus travels. Bridge and roadway washouts west of Chetwynd, British Columbia, a couple of weeks back, forced a detour off the normal route down through Prince George for Vancouver-bound bus passengers like me. Our roundabout trek took us via Edmonton and Jasper. Amazingly, I managed to arrive in San Francisco on my planned time schedule.

Crossing over an arm of San Francisco Bay from a late afternoon in sunny Oakland, I could see rapid easterly moving clouds scudding in from out over the wide, open Pacific Ocean. They obscured my view of all but one of the pillars and sweeping cable works of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. By the time I reached the downtown bus depot in San Francisco, the sky had completely greyed. My coast to coast journey would begin from this point but not before I had a chance to lay flat for the first night in four in a cousin’s guest room.

The shortest possible distance, from sea to sea on our continent, of course, lies at very nearly its southernmost point in Panama. The north to south canal route for boat passengers covers just 77 kilometres. Our Trans-Canada Highway continental crossing from Vancouver to Halifax comes in at 6,122 kilometres. My San Francisco to New York City coast to coast journey with a detour to Chicago thrown in, added up to approximately 4,640 kilometres.

A Muni streetcar took me from the Market Street station downtown out beyond the Haight-Ashbury District. In the 1960s this area became the epicentre of a monumental culture shift in the United States. The sexual revolution coupled with the free speech movement and the recreational drug explosion met there. The worldwide ripples from the “flower power” era are still being experienced today in places like the Middle East.

This area has tried to maintain a semblance of those revolutionary days. Tattoo parlours, retro clothing stores and drug paraphernalia shops are mixed in with restaurants and pubs geared to contemporary tourists, though with appropriate touches of psychedelic colouring and imagery. A few aging veterans of the ‘60s still held court there as I strolled by, but largely a new generation seem to be holding sway.

A walk up Ashbury Street above Haight towards my billet on a cul-de-sac near its summit meant a steady climb up one of San Francisco’s noted hills. Likely the altitude gain insulated the obviously high property values of the hill dwellers from denizens of the strip below. The clouds obscured any view from on top and, mercifully, any further insights.

Rain quickened our pace down the hill the next morning towards breakfast at a neighbourhood creperie on Cole Street which parallels Ashbury but with a less radical inclination. The Middle Eastern proprietor welcomed us and a Latin American staff prepared and served our crepes and French toast as I got a chance to chat with Emily Lindsey who had joined us.

Lindsey, from the University of California Museum of Paleontology, was heading south to Ecuador in a few days to lecture on and dig for the bones of gomphotheres, an elephant-like relative of our mastodons. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask her for her opinion on the cause of the extinction of our Yukon megafauna like the woolly mammoth and ground sloth. She straddled the often controversial divide and generally stated that climate change and human pressure, likely together, provided the fatal formula for demise of the ice age giants wherever they had been found.

Those two factors; climate change and human pressure, seem to be pushing us again towards a wave of extinctions, only this time a much more catastrophic one with dramatic implications for all of us.

Later that same day, back aboard a bus now heading east through the Sierra Nevada mountains, I crossed over the still snow-pocked divide via the Donner Summit. Near there, in 1846-7, the Donner party of settler families, following bad advice and worse leadership, found their wagon train trapped by snows; many died.

Globally, we know where the disastrous path we are on is taking us. Why don’t we choose a new path towards a just, sustainable future for all and new leaders who will guide us there?

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

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