Singing the Praises of our Local Creeks

June 5, 2014

“I am fortunate to live near Las Gallinas Creek, so I get to see it every day. Its beauty has been a great source of inspiration to me for many years, and that’s why I wrote my song Glory Day.” — Kurt Huget, one of the musicians on Watershed.

Creeks advocate Carla Koop
Creeks advocate Carla Koop at Alamere Falls, Pt. Reyes

Watershed, a recently released CD compilation, is a musical homage to California’s waterways, including the Bay Area’s Gallinas Creek in Marin County and Temescal Creek in Oakland. Some of the brightest lights on the Bay Area’s Americana, bluegrass, and pop scenes – including Darol Anger, Laurie Lewis, Evie Ladin, the Steep Ravine band, and others – contributed to this project, the brainchild of longtime Bay Area creeks advocate Carla Koop of the Gallinas Watershed Council. Proceeds from the sale of the CD support the work of the Council. We spoke with Carla about the winding journey — and watershed moments — that led to the production of Watershed.

BN: Are you originally from the Bay Area?

Koop: Yes, I’m a Bay Area native. I was born in San Francisco and grew up in San Rafael. After high school, I moved to Berkeley to go to Cal, stayed in the East Bay for most of my adult life, and moved back to San Rafael about four years ago.

cover of the Watershed CDBN: What did you study at Cal? How did it lead to the work you do now?

Koop:  It’s been a long journey. I studied Humanities, an interdisciplinary, self-directed major where you take classes in a lot of different departments. We had to write a significant thesis bringing together our eclectic coursework. For my thesis, I was captivated by the idea of looking at the 60s through the lens (both literally and figuratively) of a  particular person. A faculty member directed me to the work of French filmmaker [and activist] Jean-Luc Godard, and the Pacific Film Archive was doing a Godard festival at that time. So the summer before my senior year, I spent my time watching many of his films.

I wanted to teach, but I felt that Film Studies might not offer enough teaching opportunities, so I went to grad school at Johns Hopkins, where I got a master’s degree in Art History.

BN: Then how did you get from being an academic focusing on the arts, to an activist using the arts as a tool of change?

Koop: Another long journey . . . literally. I was traveling in Asia for six months. I had gotten back from a trek in Nepal, and was hanging out in Kathmandu for a while. To stay in shape, I would go on runs from my hotel to a Buddhist stupa, hundreds of steps up a steep hill just outside the city. This entailed crossing over the Bisnumati River, which was just trashed. It was shocking, especially because I’d just returned from trekking and had experienced some of the most beautiful wild rivers in the Annapurna mountains.

A lot of people lived right next to the river, and used it as their backyard trash dump and as their place to wash. I’ve always been a nature lover, but with that experience I resolved to do something about the degradation of watersheds, wherever I happened to be in the world.

BN: And how did you live up to that resolution?

Koop: When I got back to the Bay Area, I got involved in a group called Friends of Five Creeks, which stewards watersheds in Berkeley, Albany, and El Cerrito. Eventually, I went to work in that field, facilitating creek awareness and restoration for the Contra Costa Resource Conservation District. The focus of my work was educating people about watersheds and organizing volunteers to participate in restoring creeks.

Now I work for the City of San Rafael as a volunteer coordinator, where the scope of my work is considerably different, though I still organize creek cleanups. I also continue to volunteer in creek stewardship with the Gallinas Watershed Council. One of our members, Joyce Clements, is an artist who organized an exhibit of Marin County creeks featuring photos by GWC member Sue Mace. It was so successful that it inspired me to mesh my own love of music with a project that would help protect creeks.

Temescal Creek emerges from a culvert
Temescal Creek emerges from a culvert

BN: How did you begin?

Koop: One and a half years ago I put out a call to artists, asking them to contribute original songs to this project. Two were written especially for the project: “Old Creek” by Jeff Norman, about Temescal Creek in Oakland, and “Daylight My Culverted Soul”, which was inspired by Cerrito Creek in Albany/El Cerrito and written by Don Murphy, with music composed by Kurt Huget. Others gave me songs about creeks, or that evoked the sounds of water in the music, or which have other themes around rivers, the bay, and the ocean.

BN: You’d never produced a music compilation before. What made you think that you could do so at all?

Koop: I tend to dream up ideas, and then figure out how to do them afterwards.

BN: What kinds of challenges did you face? 

Koop: There were a lot of things I hadn’t thought of ahead of time. For example, I needed to make legal agreements giving us permission to use the songs. Luckily, I found two lawyers who provided pro-bono services. There were also complicated technical issues that Don Zimmer at Floating Records, a local indie label, provided assistance and guidance on.

One of the easiest parts was finding great music. The artists were very generous and really supported the cause. Other artists – designers and photographers – helped to create the cover. But once I had all that great material, it was difficult to sequence it. I wanted to have a balance and mixture of soloists and groups, males and females, vocal music and instrumental, as well as a coherent progression of themes.

Yellow-rumped warbler, last seen at Cerrito Creek 2012
Yellow-rumped warbler (Rick Leche, 2008)

BN: How did you finance the project?

Koop: We pre-sold some of the CDs as part of the process for funding the production. We used a “crowd funding” website to raise just under $2,000 from 66 different contributors, enough to produce 1,000 CDs. Now we have a web page dedicated to the CD, including notes from the artists and photos of rivers and creeks mentioned in the songs.   We also got a very nice review in the Marin Independent Journal. Our sales number in the hundreds.

BN: What’s next?

Koop: It’s already happening. Our group is using art in another form to promote awareness of creeks. It’s a photo exhibit at the Aroma Café in downtown San Rafael entitled “Reflections on Water: Marin Watershed Magic.” The exhibit runs through July 4th.

BN: What is your favorite outdoor destination in the Bay Area?

Koop: Point Reyes. I really love the coastal scrub community hiking out to Sculptured Beach, and then walking along the beach, exploring the eroded cliffs and seeing seep monkeyflowers, tidepools, and gigantic mussels.

>> Learn more: The Gallinas Watershed Council raises awareness about Gallinas Creek and other Marin County creeks, leads watershed hikes and bike rides, and implements creek clean-up projects. To learn more about the Council and to purchase the Watershed CD, click here.

About the Author

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