Wild Wonders of California
Last weekend I saw my first (wild) elk – that magnificent specimen in the picture. For my first trip outside Berkeley, we went to see some wonders of Californian nature. First stop was the National Park at Point Reyes, which runs along the coast north of San Francisco near where Francis Drake may (or may not) have landed.
Surprisingly Americans seem rather tolerant of this nasty British pirate whose circumnavigation of the world was, so far as I can make out, a thin veil for rape and pillage. But here we have ‘Drake’s Bay’, and even ‘Sir Francis Drake Boulevard’. There is even a brass plaque in Berkeley library, found in the 1930s near the Bay, which has Drake’s claim to the land inscribed on it. It’s a forgery.
Next stop was the vast redwood trees in Muir Woods, another National Park. (That’s the other photo, again courtesy of the husband). We were so taken with them that we bought a sapling and a seed to plant in Cambridge. OK, an act of environmental vandalism, I admit. If Huntingdon Road is a redwood forest in 500 years, you’ll know who to blame. But with my usual record on growing things, there’s not much to fear.
It was a tremendous trip, into nature. And you can only be grateful to the National Parks organisation for managing this territory and keeping it like this for everyone to enjoy. All the same, the longer you spend in these places, the less ‘wild’, and the more ‘tamed’ they come to seem.
Nature, I concluded, is a bit like a classical monument. It needs an awful lot of help to keep it in the state we want it. To put it another way, if you find a Roman temple that seems to have survived intact since the second century CE, it’s a fair bet that it has been rebuilt at least twice. So too with a forest and an elk, I suspect.
So what about those elks? Well, the brochure told us that these creatures had indeed used to roam the Californian shore, but had died out. This lot had been ‘re-introduced’ in the 1970s – so they weren’t the descendants of the aborigine elks at all.
As for Muir Woods, it was really beautiful, but in the end a bit ‘managed’ for my taste. There were notices warning you that stinging nettles could sting (couldn’t people just find that out for themselves?). There was a lavish provision of restrooms (in nature, aren’t you supposed to squat behind a tree?). And there was absolutely no walking off the paved, or boarded, trail (sure, I can see that’s better than having a toddler fall to its death in the creek, but all the same…!).
Meanwhile the 1930s ‘restoration’ of the creek, which lined it with rock to prevent flooding, was being gradually removed. It turned out that it had caused the water to run too fast and the fish didn’t like it. I couldn’t help thinking of those 1930s iron clamps in the Parthenon.
To cap it all, part of the trail was a ‘quiet area’, where you were supposed to keep your voices down (not many did) and turn off your mobile phones and listen to the natural world. A nice idea, but it made it seem a bit like a ‘quiet carriage’ on a long distance train!