redwood

Welcome to Santa Cruz – A Natural Perspective

This is a post that I contributed to Bruce Bratton’s online weekly on 9/28/2021

Think about our area…

Whether you are new, visiting, or have long lived in this area, how you are growing to appreciate the nature of this place to its deserving depths? Nature inspires, heals, and supports us all, and the land around Santa Cruz is a as special as nature gets. And yet, I find few people prepared to describe that richness in the ways that they more easily describe the culture, the recreational opportunities, or the human history. Will you take some time with me over the coming year to grow our appreciation of nature together, to be better able to describe this wonderful place?

I will be writing a series for Bruce’s weekly, and through this writing I hope to inspire you to appreciate our place in the world more deeply, so that you will feel more comfortable describing our ecological wealth to others. Over th longer term, I hope we can help to improve more broadly our cultural relationship to the natural world and work to restore the web of life. That way, many generations in the future, people will be proud of of our stewardship culture and benefit from the richness that we co-create. The alternative is horrifying to those of us who see the trend and love what is left of nature.

I can describe some of our natural wealth, but I encourage you to invest some time to get to know it more closely, through personal experience, and to enter into more discussions about what’s going on around us. For instance, I can describe the incredible biological diversity driven by oceanic upwelling and the Grand Canyon depths of the Monterey submarine canyon. This might inspire another trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to learn more…there is always more to learn there. And, maybe during our next visits, we will walk a little slower, look a little more intensely and take time to chat with a knowledgeable volunteer. You might also travel onto the Bay on a whale watching boat to experience firsthand the teeming of life. Patient walks along the bluffs peering oceanward also reveal hints of the Bay’s diversity. Many of us have done these things…but how often and with how much focus? How often have we tried to inspire and teach others about the Monterey Bay? Conversations can help bring us together, deepen our appreciation, and create a better culture. For nature and ourselves, we cannot do it often enough.

Without majestic whales, a Monterey Bay Terrarium, or (as yet) scientific institutions and economies to train and support land-based eco-tourism, it is not as easy to learn about our terrestrial natural world. And yet, the species diversity and diversity of natural habitats around the Monterey Bay offer endless fascinating experiences. In a very short trek, we can travel from sand dunes through estuaries and lagoons, along rivers and streams, into vast coastal prairies, under the canopies of so many forest types- Monterey pine, redwood, coast live oak, etc- and weaving through sagrebrush scrub and manzanita chaparral. Almost anywhere else in the nation, and even the world, one would travel hundreds of miles to visit this number of varied habitats. Each of these habitats has its own scents, critters, flowers, and seasonal changes.

Each Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer, I have favorite hikes to immerse myself in these various habitats to experience what they have to offer at various times of year. Recently, I walked in the understory of one of our recently burned redwood forests. The scent of charcoal and blackened redwood trunks are relatively new to me, but the ripening acorns, orange-blushed madrone berries and the cooing and loud wing flaps of band tailed pigeons remind me of the fall’s wildland harvest time. Creekside walks are especially nice right now with the sound of water, lush ferns and blossoming monkeyflowers contrasting with so much of the brittle dryness of late summer elsewhere.  Soon, there will be rain, and the manzanitas unfurl clusters of urn-shaped, honey scented flowers. The chaparral is the first habitat to erupt in bouquets with the smell of fresh rain on soil. Bees will bumble and hummingbirds will dart between the many chaparral blossoms. Rehydrated back to fluffy life, lichens and mosses will add depth to the chaparral’s colors and textures, accentuating the change brought by the annual wet season we call winter.

Through the coming months, I will share notes about the places I visit and help connect you with ways to learn more. There are books, interpretive trails, guided field trips, multimedia internet resources, museums, and events that will help us continue to explore this wonderful place. Meanwhile, I hope that you will regularly remind yourself that we are living every day alongside one of the nation’s most densely diverse natural areas and that there are opportunities to explore it, real close by. Experts note that relationships last best between people who remain curious and are willing to stretch and grow; I posit the same is true for our relationship with nature. Remaining experientially and physically engaged with nature, we will be healthier emotionally and physically. Learning more about nature and having more frequent conversations about what we have experienced and learned will help to protect and steward nature.

Each week, I will present a bit of homework for specific direction to go deeper with the concepts I introduce. This week: do some ‘forest bathing’ in the redwood understory or walk near a stream. Read a bit out of Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild, Burton Gordon’s book Natural History and Cultural Imprints of the Monterey Bay, and Ellen Bakker’s An Island Called California. Visit the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Talk to someone about your personal experience with the nature around us.

And, each week, I will list a few of the new things I have experienced in nature the past week. This past week, I saw the arrival (from Alaska!) of golden crowned sparrows as well as (from I don’t know where) western meadowlarks; geese flew overhead geese in huge honking V’s; the sun hit its midway point moving south to north- last Wednesday was Equinox – now the nights are longer! Send me a note about something you noticed that is new in nature so that I might add it to this list in future posts.