It gets me every year. January is barely started and California is already flirting with Spring.
Last weekend, out in the redwoods in west Marin, the California Bay trees were blooming. When the weak sun filtered through the canopy and hit their branches, the diminutive cream colored flowers shone like little jewels. As the day wore on and the leaves heated up, that classic smell of the woods permeated the air — the peppery smell of this beautiful tree.
Have you seen the signs of Spring yet? Let me know!
One of the Bay Areas top visitor spots is Muir Woods. It was beautiful when I was there yesterday. I’ll never tire of the walk to Cathedral Grove along the banks of Redwood Creek. But it can get a little crowded. In fact this year, visitation is up 10 per cent — or about 1 million people a year. I was surprised to learn that the days after Christmas can be as busy as any summer weekend! Unfortunately the shuttle bus service is suspended due to the slide on Highway 1 and that the County is blocking parking along the county road. It had me thinking, if you want to visit the redwoods but want to avoid the Muir Woods crush, where should you go?
I have three suggestions for other spots to try. They are all close by and have the added advantage of being kid friendly!
Live in the South Bay? Head down the coast and turn inland at Pescadero to find Butano Redwoods State Park. Much like Muir Woods, the highlight is a beautiful trail that follows Little Butano Creek with redwoods cloaking both sides. Head up to the campground to see some of the largest trees in the park. And on your way out, stop at Bean Hollow State Beach and watch the breakers roll in. It’s a grand day out!
Headed North across the Golden Gate Bridge? Instead of getting off at Muir Woods, head out on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it winds out to West Marin and stop at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. You could start our at the picnic area and admire the classic CCC hearths — you could even throw on a log and heat up your tea. Kids, young and old alike, will enjoy playing on the old stumps. Then take a walk over the bridge to the Cross Marin Trail. It’s a great place to ride your bike, or just enjoy a walk along the creek. Then hike up Wildcat Canyon to see some of the tallest trees in the Bay Area. If you’re feeling ambitious, follow the Pioneer trail up the the hill to an unusual grove at the top.
Want to stay in the East Bay? It may lack the grandeur of the ancient forest, but my kids love to go to Roberts Regional Recreation Area. It’s got a great playground and a beautiful redwood grove where they can play to their hearts content. You can follow the short trail and see the site of the “landmark trees” — redwood beacons used by the early sailors on the bay.
Do you have other places to recommend? Let me know!
Light breaks through, Muir Woods
Little Butano Creek, Butano Redwoods SP
Playing amid the woods, Roberts Recreational
Playing in the tree forts at Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Although its rarely been out of the news for the past few years, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is front-page news again today with the new Republican controlled Senate taking it up as its first order of business. For me, the pipeline has become a potent symbol of much that is wrong in the Country.
For the proponents it’s the solution to our economic woes and will single-handedly free us from the specter of “foreign oil.” Although last I checked Canada was not the 51st State, and many of the jobs would be temporary construction jobs. To the opponents it will be responsible for completing our slide into a warmer planet bathed in carbon dioxide. They argue that stopping the pipeline will mean the oil stays in the ground. I am no expert on the economics of oil, but I think it is safe to assume the oil will get to market if the price is right, pipeline or no pipeline. As an aside, I am curious if the recent crash in oil price makes the project uneconomic.
And now the Senate is going to weigh in on a project that is both the subject of law suits and extensive review by the Administration. When the Republicans get a bill out of the Congress’s and to the Presidents desk, I hope he vetoes it to send a strong message. Congress meanwhile needs to stop wasting everyone’s time and tackle the harder policy question of how American can lead the world in producing clean, plentiful and affordable energy that does not pollute the planet. It’s a much harder ask but solving that will actually lead to sustained economic growth and a cleaner environment. Of course, while we make that transition it would be smart to keep our climate options open and leave the dirtiest forms of energy where they are — buried safe in the ground.
In a remote part of northern California, a small creek flows to the Pacific Ocean in the heart of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. But this isn’t any creek. This is Home Creek and for its last mile of so it flows through Fern Canyon. I think it is one of the most beautiful spots on the coast.
I took the eight mile dirt road to Gold Bluffs beach earlier this week. It was raining gently and I had the canyon to myself. It may lack the grandeur of the better known canyons of the south west, but it more than makes up for this with a series of intimate views as you head upstream, repeatedly crossing the creek as you go. The sheer walls of the canyon, draped with five-finger ferns, gently reflect and soften the sound of the creek. It’s just magical.
What do you remember about your early years at school? If you’re like me, chances are not too many of the specifics. But I am pretty sure that my oldest son, now in the second grade, had one of those lessons last week. Why do I say that? Because I have a very similar memory from my time at school, as does my mother. More than 60 years separate these lessons, but they are essential the same.
And the lesson? Dissecting an eyeball and extracting the lens.
My mother worked on a sheep’s eye. I dissected a cow’s eye. And my son got to do the same with an anchovy.
It was amazing watching a class full of normally twitchy seven and eight year olds settle down and learn what makes a fish a fish. The climax was removing the lens and feeling the tiny hard sphere that you could then take back to class. It made science-education real — if a little smelly!
The staff and many volunteers at the Shorebird Nature Center at the Berkeley Marina did a great job turning these students into scientists for the morning. I have a hunch that one of his early school memories will be of this day and that little anchovy.
Do you have a favorite lesson that has stuck with you through the years?
I was saddened to learn earlier today that Marin Litton, a passionate conservationist, passed away yesterday. I met Martin during my time at Save the Redwoods League. We connected on the redwoods (of course) and over his time in England during World War II fly gliders from airbases likely built by my grandfather.
I will never forget the first time we met. It perfectly exemplifies his fierce independence and passion. We were hosting a memorial tree planting for Martin’s former boss at Sunset Magazine, Ambassador Bill Lane. Given that many of the guests were getting on in years, we’d arranged for a bus to bring people up to the redwoods from the Bay Area. The bus was running late. Very late. And Martin was the reason.
Martin stepped out of the bus with a bloodied and bruised face. In the early morning light, Martin had slipped in his driveway and landed heavily on his head. He’d laid there until his wife found him. Undaunted they dusted hims off and he and his wife drove to meet the bus. Our staff encouraged (implored!) him to go to the local hospital to be checked out. But that would mean missing the event to honor his long-time fellow champion of the Sierra. Martin was getting on that bus if it was the last thing he was going to do. Finally a compromise was reached and he agreed to visit the Garberville emergency room to be checked out when he arrived. Anyone who has done that drive in a car knows its a long and slow drive. Imagine doing that with a bloodied, bruised head? I can’t!
It didn’t end there. Between checking in to the hotel and getting Martin in the car to the hospital, his wife slipped. So we took them both to be checked out. Fortunately both were fine, if bruised. Martin joined everyone the next day for breakfast, complete with a massive bandage and incipient black eye. I can tell from reading his obituary, that this was the real Martin. He was an unstoppable force and the mountains and the forests of the West are better today for it.
Harold Hoyle was my great uncle. Born in the late 1800’s, he died near the Front on August 25, 2018 in the closing weeks of World War I. This past weekend, my mother along with other relatives, gathered in Earby, northern England to lay a poppy at the town’s war memorial. The oldest of the clan was my uncle Martin — Harold’s half brother. The youngest, my nephew Mylo.
My mother shared her memory of grandmother, Harold’s step-mother, telling the story stood of him leaving for the last time. She was stood on the very step he left from never to return.
Harold Hoyle was my fathers half brother and lived at Hodge Syke in Earby. He was an essential mill worker but was given the white feather one Friday evening by two mill girls so went to war. He was injured in France and came home to recuperate for 5 months and then went back. I remember Pauline Mary Hoyle (my grandmother and his step mother) telling me about the day he went back, standing in the doorway at Hodge Syke and telling her he would never come home again. She cried when she told me this and although not much more than 10 years old at the time (I’m 70 this year) I have never forgotten her look as she remembered the event.
The local paper, The Craven Herald, carried his death notice along with two moving poems on September 20th, 1918.
Private Harold Holye, Earby
Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s, killed in action on August 25th, was 25 years of age and the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Albert J. Hoyle, Hodge Syke, Earby. He was wounded last October and returned to France after four months’ recuperation in England. Altogether he had been two years at the Front and was formerly an engine-tenter at Grove Shed, Earby.
HOYLE – In loving memory of our dear son, Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who was killed in action somewhere in France, August 25th, 1918.
Somewhere in France in a soldier’s grave, Lies our dear son among the brave; From earthly cares to heavenly rest, Missed by those who loved him best.
–From Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters
Somewhere in France in a soldier’s grave, Lies my dear sweet heart amongst the brave; But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow None but an aching heart can know,
–Ever remembered, Mollie
100 years after the end of the Great War, I find the story deeply moving. Harold was doing his part for the War effort on the home front, and yet something as flimsy as a white feather — a potent symbol of cowardice — led to two years at the Front of the most brutal war and ultimately to his death in battle. Rest in Peace, Harold.
The National Park Service is developing plans to bring WiFi and better cell-phone access to parks, including the iconic Yellowstone National Park. It’s triggering a heated debate, evidence by the recent article on Mashable that has been widely shared. Do elk and moose need access to the internet? Or more importantly, do the visitors who have come to be with nature also need to be connected to the internet so they can post a selfie instantaneously?
As we come up to the Centennial of the National Park Service it had me wondering what Stephen Mather, the first head of the National Park Service, would think of this debate. Of course, we’ll never know, but I have a hunch he’d have been an advocate.
Mather was a fascinating individual who had made his millions out of 20 Mule Team Borax. He understood the power of brand and the importance of getting people into the parks. He professionalized the park service, developed the iconic image of the Park Ranger (think of that hat), promoted Park Highways, and introduced concessions into Parks to provide for the needs of the visitors attracted to the parks he was building. He understood that parks needed protecting and the best way to protect them was to have passionate advocates who loved them.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’d understand the importance of introducing WiFi and internet access in a careful and limited manner to both encourage new visitors and provide new services to the visitor once they arrived. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we need access everywhere all the time, but I do believe parks need to keep pace with current trends to ensure they remain relevant to all visitors.
Late last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Committee released a report on the state of the streets in the nine-county Bay Area. As anyone who has been jolted when there car or bike hit a pot hole, it will come as no surprise that the situation is pretty dire. In many cities and counties, routine maintenance is not enough to even maintain the status-quo, let alone rebuild for the future. Across the region, 43,000 miles of streets are stuck in the “fair” category, with no sign of improvements on the horizon. I might add that my home town of Albany had one of the lowest scores and has shown steady declines over the past three years.
There was a short segment on KQED’s forum this morning about the report. The discussion focused on the need to develop new funding mechanisms, and how cities like El Cerrito have successfully raised new revenue to fix up old streets. While the MTC report and radio debate touches on the concept of “Complete Streets” –streets that are build for cars, bikes, and pedestrians — they both missed another element from my perspective. Namely water.
Essentially, our street system has extended and in some cases replaced the system of creeks and rivers that used to drain into the Bay. In a region that is defined by the Bay, we should use every opportunity we can to enhance its protection. And in a time of scarce public resources, we can not afford to solve one problem at a time. Fortunately, in the case of streets you can solve the pot hole problem, create a safer and more livable street, and protect water quality at the same time. It’s already happening in pockets around the area as “low impact development” ordinances are adopted and implemented. What is needed now is a comprehensive set of ordinances to ensure that as our streets are upgraded, we’re creating green streets for the future.
Rather than getting rainwater off our streets and into the storm drain as quickly as possible, we need to allow it to percolate back into the groundwater. This can be achieved through curb-cuts, bioswales, rain gardens and cisterns. Not only do these enhance water quality, they also create more liveable green space in our community. If done correctly, it can also open up new funding mechanisms focused on water quality and supply.
If I’m going to be asked to tax myself to pay for road upgrades, I want to ensure we’re building streets for 2050, not taking the region back to 1950.
Walking back from dropping his brother at school this morning, my middle son suddenly shouted out, “I don’t see Topanga, but I smell it!” Asked what does it smell like, he responds, “It smells like mountains full of bears.”
We were in the Bay Area, far from Topanga Canyon and many miles (I think) from the nearest bear. So what was he smelling? The sun was out and shining on the trees, so perhaps it was the smell of morning sun warming up the trees.
We hadn’t been together in Topanga since late summer. It was a good reminder of how smell can trigger strong memories. And as we never saw a bear in Topanga, it also shows how young minds blend fact and fiction seamlessly. Now I am wondering how to include protecting natural smells in our conservation plans!