Regeneration in the Wild West

IMG_2940Mi hijo, the little Chigüiro, ambles through an urban prairie meadow, the grasses tickling his elbows. It’s green: finally, what a relief! After six years of drought, the rains have returned to California, and with them the magic of wildflowers. I feel like I can breathe again.

We peek among the grasses to find the hidden treasures, wildflowers, colorful jewels that gleam when the sun passes through them. Colors of amethyst, garnet, gold, and ruby. An ancestral life force that has been hidden, dormant, waiting half-asleep through these dry years. More than that: waiting through years of pollution, contamination and neglect, in their tiny oasis in a park surrounded by urban development, industrial runoff, sewage and power plants, choking freeways. Buildings and urban arteries were built up around them, and many colonizers invaded. Exotic species who pushed, spread out, displaced and took over; who evicted, you might say, these uniquely-suited native species. (Sound familiar, people of Frisco?)

And yet somehow this life force survived, tucked away in tiny seeds. Like messages from the ancestors, from Pachamama, messages of hope.

IMG_2963Sometimes I wonder if even shoots of green and patches of earth in the city aren’t a little infected, sick, not quite able to thrive with the full energy of the earth. I feel choked by urban reality sometimes.

But I today found new breath in the gasping moment of spotting the wildflowers! Something so alive, so full of that force of spirit and perseverance, reaching up from below us, expanding towards the cosmos. Blue-eyed grass, Douglas iris, California buttercups, California poppies, mule’s ear, figwort, suncups. Diversity and life force, the power of survival.

In the past few weeks we’ve torn off a big piece of our house, a modern bit that was added on (and poorly built) to our 10o year old redwood cottage. In the back you can see the redwood boards shining through, where the addition has been taken away. The entire wall is redwood boards side by side, gleaming warm red in the golden sun. Surrounding our family, holding us in a firm embrace. We’re rebuilding that back bit to make room for our family of four. Trying hard to keep our foothold in our beloved San Francisco, where the cost of living has rocketed so high. As we sit tight, neighborhoods change and communities are displaced around us.

When we made the rounds on our block to keep everyone informed of our construction plans, one elderly neighbor remarked that this old barrio has been through so much, always, through improvements and through changing times. His old California accent gives me hope. This old barrio will survive. That ancestral life force is right under us, just below the paved surface. And holding us tight in our redwood bungalow. This community will keep right on going, even into a scary future of super lice and super droughts and super jumbo mortgages. If you seek the treasures hidden in our California coastal prairie, you can feel that inner strength. We can do this.

I am so grateful for the natural areas where native habitat survives, protected by the hard work of dedicated community members.  Here are some of our favorites close to the Bay.

McLaren Park

San Bruno Mountain

Glen Canyon Park

The Serpentine Prairie in Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park


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