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The Nature of Home: People & Place in the Bay Area

Jon Carroll Greg Sarris Robert Hass Wendy Tokuda Rebecca Solnit Linda Watanabe McFerrin Harold Gilliam $5.95

People in Nature Photo Contest East Bay Nature Centers


he first thing that is apt to raise your eyes Above the dove-grey and silvery thickets Of lupine and coyote bush and artichoke thistle On the sandy, winding path from the parking lot To the beach at Abbotts Lagoon is the white flash Of the marsh hawk’s rump as it skims low Over coastal scrub. The white-crowned sparrows Loud in the lupine even in October, even In a drizzly rain, startle and disappear. The bush rabbits freeze, then bolt, and disappear, And the burbling songs and clucks of the quail That you may not even have noticed you were noticing Go mute and you are there in October and the rain, And the hawk soars past, first, hawk, then shadow Of a hawk, not much shadow in the rain, low sun Silvering through clouds a little to the west. It’s almost sundown. And this is that new weather,

Ro b e rt H a ss

In the beginning of the middle of the California fall When a rain puts an end to the long sweet days Of our September when the skies are clear, days mild, And the roots of the plants have gripped down Into the five or six month drought, have licked All the moisture they are going to lick From the summer fogs, and it is very good to be walking Because you can almost hear the earth sigh As it sucks up the rain, here where mid-October Is the beginning of winter which is the beginning Of a spring greening, as if the sound you are hearing Is spring and winter lying down in one another’s arms Under the hawk’s shadow among the coastal scrub, Ocean in the distance and the faintest sound of surf And a few egrets, bright white, working the reeds At the water’s edge in October in the rain.

Susan Hall,

abbotts lagoon: october

Dog and Man at Abbotts Lagoon

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass teaches poetry at UC Berkeley. His most recent work is The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems (Ecco, 2010). 18

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on mount diablo

Wi l l i a m Ke e n e r

Into the Evening


Paul Kratter,

ere, the sedimentary rocks of the town where I was raised lift up, the layers of ancient seabed exposed in ridges running left to right, time turned on its side— Eocene, Miocene, Pliocene.

Beyond, a solitary hawk sits silhouetted on a prow of rock, listening for the soft-footed mice to slip from chaparral. A frieze of oak trees holds black limbs still in the winter solstice air.

At this height, the twilight rises, a tidal shadow deepening the cold of the cloudless atmosphere, sharpening the view until it seems every level is visible, beginning with an ordinary puddle.

Far below, the minuscule windows are jewels on glowing webs, luminescent growth in the valley of a hundred thousand, their tide of streetlights and headlights rising up the mountain where I stand.

This shallow rain-filled basin is a dish for living algae, a colony caught on a monolithic hump, the back of the sandstone whale sounding the depths of the dark shales that surround us.

It’s getting late, and the keys are already in my hand, but before I make the steep drive back, the surface of that transient puddle takes the firmament of galactic fire and lays it at my feet.

Bay Area native William Keener’s poems have appeared most recently in the Atlanta Review, Water-Stone Review, and the West Marin Review. His nature poetry chapbook Gold Leaf on Granite (2009) won the Anabiosis Press Award. When not writing poetry, Keener works as an environmental lawyer and, in his spare time, studies marine mammals in San Francisco Bay with Golden Gate Cetacean Research. j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 1

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the ascent of mount burdell


as anyone written a poem about bunchgrass? Or buckeyes? About the way that every year buckeye trees grow their big thin vividly green leaves first and lose them first among the deciduous trees, a water-conserving strategy and an aesthetic one; about the way leaf loss bares the delicate wavering line of their pale boughs, branches, and twigs, less gnarled and jagged than the lines of oaks; and about the elegant composition of the tree overall, standing delicate yet solid, holding not only its ground but the air around it in its gray fingers, a hemisphere of arboreal grace? If no one has yet, someone should celebrate their composite pale blossoms in the spring standing up all over the green tree like candles. “Erect panicles,” says an encyclopedia entry in a phrase whose vaguely phallic language brings us to the testicular fruit that dangles from those bare branches in pale leathery casings before they split open and the gleaming chestnuts fall to the ground. The buckeyes grow mainly along the Coast Range and the foothills of Central California, from Redding to Santa Clarita, a ring of Aesculus californica you shouldn’t take for granted. Among the things familiarity breeds, contempt is not nearly so common as an affection that sometimes slides over into obliviousness; the wonderful readily becomes wallpaper to everyday life until something changes. During a summer in Iceland a few years ago I overcame a childhood within easy reach of Muir Woods. I’d never quite gotten the point about really tall trees until I was in a country where a 30-foot-tall tree is a giant —  and a rarity — and trees themselves aren’t that common. (The bad joke is that if you get lost in an Icelandic forest you should just stand up.) But the exceptional does get celebrated, even if you aren’t always wise enough — as I was not, as a child — to know that it’s exceptional. The quotidian is readily overlooked and rarely celebrated, which is why you can drive past the most exquisite and ordinary oak grassland turned over to grazing on your way to any number of protected exceptional territories, such as Yosemite National Park. That Yosemite Falls is the fifth tallest waterfall on earth and the tallest on the continent is nice, but the music of water is sweeter on a small scale, and the mesmerizing revelation of falling water can be realized by any cascade over the rocks of any stream in spring flow. In Marin County, you have praise sung and tourists dispatched to Muir Woods — the chief surviving redwood forest of note there — and the coast and Mount Tamalpais, the highest point, but most of the county that isn’t under asphalt is tree-studded grassland, green in spring, gold in summer, graying in the third season we have that hybridizes fall and fast-forwards through what isn’t quite winter until the next


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Reb e cca Soln i t

green pokes through the flattened dun-colored grass. Studded with oak, buckeye, and bay trees, to be exact, beautiful trees all. When I’d spend summers or any long stretches of time in the Southwest, coming back over Tehachapi Pass I’d see the wonderful change—you go up the desert east face of creosote bush and then sagebrush and over the crest to descend a slope of oaks and grass — and every time I saw my home biome that wave of emotion — reassurance, comfort, recognition, ease, the emotions you feel when you see the face of your friend in the crowd of strangers — would settle in. Even though I love sagebrush, desert, and mountain landscapes, this was home. So my affection for Mount Burdell partakes of these ingredients. It’s a superlative version of the most common landscape from near the Oregon border to just north of Los Angeles. There’s something about the way the mountain — for the 1,558foot hill has been graced with this term — sits alone, sloping gently upward to its rounded dome, calm and resplendent, like a lion lying in repose not far from the northwestern shores of San Pablo Bay. It’s not a foothill or part of a ridgeline, but a distinct, discrete form visible from across the Bay and from a long way away in either direction on Highway 101, which travels below its eastern slopes. Burdell is also about a mile north of where I grew up, in what was in those days one of the northernmost subdivisions in the county. There’s a little more development between my formative split-level ranch-style bunker and the foot of the mountain now. Nevertheless, Burdell still crowns a huge swath of open space between northern Novato and the southern agricultural outskirts of Petaluma. When I was a kid it was all grazing land for the dairy farmers and some ranchers running beef cows, or I think it was in those days when private property did not concern me and my brothers. We climbed through the barbed wire with absolute confidence in our right to do so and traveled freely and frequently in a landscape full of spaciousness that invited roaming and niches, hollows, and groves that encouraged slowing down. About half of Burdell is now protected; the rest still has cows and barbed wire. On the northeast side of the mountain is Olompali State Historic Park, and the landscape there is wonderful for many reasons, not least among them the abundance of native bunchgrasses that grow along its eastern slopes, grass that once covered far more of the state and still grows here in big tufts and long plumes. Grasses don’t get enough attention either, but these cascades of blades are a nice change from the bone-dry nonnatives of a California summer. This face of Burdell is in some ways a quotidian Bay Area landscape, but one that gives you a

feel for what the place might have been like 200 years ago before the nonnative annual grasses overtook the bunchgrasses and the bunchgrasses mostly retreated to relatively inhospitable serpentine soils (along one of the northern arms of Tam, for example). It’s quietly lush. Olompali is notable for other reasons — it was the scene of a skirmish during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 that merged with the war on Mexico that turned all California and the Southwest into American territory. Before that it was where Camilo Ynitia became the only indigenous Californian to receive a Mexican land grant. In fact the place’s human history, from indigenous

zine assignment I hadn’t approached the mountain from any other angle. This time I did, on a cloudy, humid late summer day. Old memories of wandering the region came back, including a summer when the grass was taller than we were, and my younger brother and I trampled a labyrinth into it with an occasional overhead arch made of shocks of grass twisted together. It was just wild oats, not the native grasses, but wild oats deserve their poets too, for the wonderful pale gold they turn, for the way the chaff hangs on the plant long after the seed has gone, light and dancing in the breeze. Is there a word for that particular color that is at once pale and golden, not as yellow as grain Thomas Wood,

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Mount Burdell, Novato

village to rancho to battlefield to gringo estate with exotic plantings (the palms and pomegranate hedge are still there) to abandonment to hippie commune to state park, encapsulates much of the history of California, but never mind that for the time being. When my aunt was dying in Sonoma County a decade ago, I used to stop at Olompali for a decompressing walk on my way back from visiting her, but from late childhood until this maga-

ripe in the field, a little tawny like lions, both stark for its utter dryness and lush for its abundance, the color of much of the landscape in summer? Should there be, and would it be a phrase like hills of August? Or just summer-colored? Lion-colored? Cougar? I entered the Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve (part of the Marin Open Space District) off Simmons Lane, heading north and west from the cul-de-sac of houses, and found a stand of wild oats that was taller than my now-much-taller self, and j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 1

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people in nature In spring 2010, Bay Nature teamed up with Sarber’s Cameras on a photo contest featuring images of people in the natural places they love. Dozens of local photographers submitted their work, so picking the best wasn’t easy. Find the top winner on page 15, and seven more here. Check out more finalists at photocontest.

P h oto C o n te st Wi n n e rs

Mani Sheriar

Crossing the creek, Tilden Regional Park

Wolfgang Schubert

p e o p l e i n n a t u r e p h o t o

SECOND PLACE: Painting Lands End from the old El Camino del Mar, San Francisco

c o n t e s t

Bill Helsel

w i n n e r s

Photographer at Abbotts Lagoon, Point Reyes National Seashore

habitats of

the East Bay Regiona l Parks This story is part of a series exploring significant natural habitats and resources of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), many of which are encountered in other parts of the Bay Area as well. The series is sponsored by EBRPD, which manages 65 parks, reserves, and trails covering more than 100,000 acres in Alameda and Contra Costa counties (

by Joan Hamilton

Learning from Nature in the East Bay Parks


Classroom in the (above) Tilden Regional Park naturalist James Wilson, who was a Junior Ranger himself as a child, leads the current crop of Junior Rangers to Jewel Lake. The Junior Rangers are kids (ages 9 to 18) committed to learning about nature through regular outings and overnight camping trips. (left) Katie Colbert, a naturalist at Sunol Regional Wilderness, holds a western fence lizard for a child at one of the park’s weekday education programs.

Nina Zhito,

Woods I

f you’ve ever poked around in an elderly uncle’s attic, you’ve got some idea of what it’s like to visit the nature lodge at Tilden Nature Area in the East Bay Hills above Berkeley. Nestled in a forest beside the Little Farm, it looks a little like a long, low storage shed. But there are signs of life. A child-size muddy handprint smudges each of its 13 small windows. Curling snapshots of kids with backpacks are pasted on posters inside. At one end of the room is a big stone fireplace. At the other is a corner filled with a tree stump, fishing net, birdhouse, bag of concrete, miniature pig trough, gallon jar full of pickled newts. A sign outside says, “Home of the Junior Rangers.” Some 40 kids, ages 9 to 18, have gathered here on a cold Saturday morning in May. Last week they built boats out of recycled canvas and Scotch broom, an invasive shrub. The one-person roundish “coracles” look a little lumpy and, well, handmade. But they’ve been built for an important mission. There’s a shortage of safe resting places for western pond turtles in the region. Junior Rangers are going to paddle to the middle of nearby Jewel Lake to install floating turtle platforms. As the kids file out of the lodge to get their boats, a lanky, dark-haired teenager tells a friend, “I’m supremely confident!”

Nina Zhito,

Unfortunately, many kids aren’t supremely confident in the outdoors these days. Some aren’t even interested. They suffer from what author Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder,” which he says can lead to problems like obesity and depression. In Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, a fourth grader sums up the problem: “I like to play indoors ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” In the five years since its publication, this book has spawned a spirited movement with this motto: “Leave no child inside.” The East Bay Regional Park District has been getting kids outside for more than seven decades. These Junior Rangers at Tilden Nature Area, for instance, meet each week to hike, camp, fly kites, play in the mud, climb mountains, explore creeks, and generally help each other have adventures in nature. Once a month or so, they go on an overnight. Toward the end of the year, they take a three-day and a five-day trip. When I ask an immaculate 12-year-old in a pink T-shirt what her favorite J.R. activity is, she says, “mud fights.” Others say “catching bullfrogs,” “tying knots,” and “eating powdered eggs!” A girl who looks like Huck Finn’s sister says proudly, “If I had to do this at my school, no one would have j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 1

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n a t u r a l i s t ’s

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j o h n

n o t e b o o k

m u i r

l a w s

Bay Nature Magazine, January 2011  

Tenth anniversary special dedicated to the theme of People in Nature. Extra thick with artwork, photographs, essays, and poems inspired by l...

Bay Nature Magazine, January 2011  

Tenth anniversary special dedicated to the theme of People in Nature. Extra thick with artwork, photographs, essays, and poems inspired by l...