Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sitting on a Gold Mine


A few weeks back, we drove north - through the tight streets of San Francisco, in between the soaring red arms of the Golden Gate Bridge, and up into the lounging green hills of the North Bay.  Cattle drawled across fields and, occasionally, a small milk barn or windmill speckled the green.  Bare oak trees, swaddled in moss, clawed the sky.

I imagine this is different country in the summer.  The signs promising the "sweetest strawberries" at shuttered fruit stands are not lying.  The oaks wear scratchy green leaves then and frogs' croaks echo in the ebbing creeks and streams.

This drive reminded me that once all of my state looked something like this.  Our single Silicon Valley hawk, with missing wing feathers, was once one of dozens, lazily circling the sky, scooping up field mice and squirrels.  Our blacktop encased urban stream once sprawled wildly, carving its own path through sauntering emerald hills.  And our oaks once grew in forests, surrounded by fellow oaks, instead of spotted between office buildings, parking spaces and palm trees.

Much of this rural landscape is gone.  It exists in puzzle pieces outside of a commute.  But I cannot forget what once was and what could be.  Certainly, we cannot ravel up the yarn of highways crossing the state or replace hundred year old forests, felled for new home sites and chain stores.  Our yards, though, tucked snugly together likes socks in a well organized drawer, can host wildlife and grow food.  Holes eased under fences do not need to be filled.  Old wood and trees can be left for the woodpecker.  Ornamental flower beds can host a cacophony of native wildflowers and bees.  Vegetable beds can be stitched into backyards and fruit trees added where eucalyptus or some other innocuous tree might have gone.  Chicken coops can be nestled under an old pine tree and bird houses nailed to the back fence.

We are sitting on a gold mine in our own yards and with a few seeds, an open gate and a wide heart, we can, at least partially, turn back the time on our urban landscapes and regenerate our spaces and our selves.

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