California’s Coastal Mountains are parched in autumn. Wildflowers have faded and grasses have dried in the summer’s drought. If you’ve ever heard Kate Wolf’s song “Golden Rolling Hills of Califirnia”, she is describing these round yellow ridges.
Del Valle Regional Park near Livermore is far from a wilderness area. Our native bunch grasses have largely been replaced by European herbs. This lake is managed as a reservoir, and cattle graze in these hills. Still, wildness is here for the attentive observer to find.
Acorn woodpecker dart among trees and cling to trunks calling “Whacka- Whacka!” Their dark bodies contrast with white bellies and chins, and red feather caps. Hikers who find oak and pine trunks that are full of acorn shaped holes can guess that these birds are active. They cooperatively gather acorns and pound them into tree trunks to protect their stash from other acorn loving creatures.
These acrobats’ presence shows that several oak species grow nearby. Each type of oak produces different numbers of acorns each year; these birds need to find at least one species that can offer them sufficient food. I find many coast live oaks in the hills; interior live oaks are probably also around. These trees grow alone on the dry hills. Some live closer together in small groves, showing that water rests under the ground. They are evergreens; their thick leaves hold water through the hot summer and autumn. Those that grow in shade don’t get enough sunlight to survive, they turn brown and litter the trail.
Deciduous willows’ and western sycamores’ leaves give us autumn’s yellow.Piles of round scat show that deer are around to eat crimson poison oak. Coyote bushes produce fluffy seeds that rlook like those wild dogs’ fur. Red tailed hawks dance circles through the warm, dry air. Black phoebes perch on wooden outhouses’ metal chimneys, and zip across fields to catch flying insects. Hidden red shouldered hawks call “Pyou! Pyou! Pyou!” Somewhere a cow mumbles, “Moo?”
This rich park is a wonderful relief from the clanging, overheated city. I have to wonder how it would look if humans had never developed this area, The British environmental writer George Monbiot comments that we frequently misinterpret our surroundings. Everyone knows that our world is over developed. We often contrast its condition with the richness we remember from our childhood. Monbiot challenges us to consider that our cherished memories also refer to a degraded world, one that had lost many creatures that once called it home. This region was home to California grizzlies and California condors several hundred years ago. More birds and mammals than we can now imagine bounded through native grasses. Ohlone people probably hunted and gathered acorns. This is the image we need to retain when we think about
restoring this region. We’ll never return California’s past, but this dream can be the model that guides us.