California Native Plant Society journal, Fremontia
What happens when a small group of people comes together out of a shared love of the land to create a true community? What if they are united by a watershed and a belief that every being in the community-not just the people, but all the animals, the plants, the small creatures, the flowing waters, and the habitat as a whole-have equal and respected rights within the community? In a community like this, nature is no longer an “it” but a “we,” and is cared for by everyone. And if we are lucky, someone writes a book about it.
The Nature Of This Place is just such a book. It is an inspirational model for those of us who cherish California’s wild lands and its magnificent wildflowers. It is an adventure that chronicles, with beautiful essays and historical background, how a community came together in partnership with a governmental agency to manage a forest habitat in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills of California. And, as one resident, Gary Snyder, writes in the introduction, “Šthis book is not only to share what we’ve learned so far, but will be for future readers an invitation to join in, add on, and help make the eventual transformation to a culture of durability, conscience, and sustainability possible here at the western edge of the continent and at the eastern edge of the Pacific.”
The adventure that Bruce Boyd tells us began in 1991 when the Yuba Watershed Institute was born out of “a mild state of environmental militancy.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the South Yuba River State Park were planning to erect a radio tower on Bald Mountain, which was a place treasured by the community for its unique serpentine Macnab cypress/Garry oak/manzanita ecosystem and for the beautiful views of the South Yuba River canyon. The “environmental militancy” grew into a cooperative plan, as Boyd describes it, with “the enlightened BLM district manager, Deane Swickard, Što cooperate in the management of some 2,000 acres on six disparate BLM parcels.”
The cooperative plan was developed with the BLM and two primary groups of residents, the newly created Yuba Watershed Institute and the local Timber Framer’s Guild. Their mission was to sustainably manage the federal lands surrounding their own properties. The Cooperative Management Agreement that they created has the long-range objective to “encourage the recreation of an old-growth forest through management practices consistent with the natural process of forest succession.” The management became the responsibility of the community, through the Institute and the Guild, with the BLM acting as a partner and “coach” in the effort. The group calls the lands the “Inimim Forest,” after the local Maidu-Nisenan name for the Ponderosa pines that grow abundantly in the area.
To educate, inspire, and get the support of local residents, The Yuba Watershed Institute created a Journal in 1991 called “Tree Rings,” to inform people about their work and about the rich experiences that come from knowing and loving the place in which they live. From articles, sketches, photography, and poetry compiled over 20 years from the journals, we experience their ponderings, discoveries, successes, and challenges of living on the land. This isn’t just a story of setting land aside to preserve it, but one where people have learned to live in balance with nature, while in some cases even depending upon it for their livelihoods.
There are those in the watershed who make their living creating beautiful works of art, award winning furniture, and other items from salvaged timber. It is a model that, with love, could revolutionize how we interact, enjoy, and merge with the land, as we create our place within, not over, nature. And, to complete the story, the radio tower was placed out of sight in a remote part of the land, and the community continues to be an “alive” community that teaches its children how to know and love the land.
To give you a sense of the quality of the writing, here is an excerpt from a poetic piece by resident Tavia Cathcart:
The “backyard” holds numerous beginnings. Radiating from the cabin is Bald Mountain, the South Yuba River canyon, rolling hills, neighbors to meet and visit. Beginning at the back door, I follow the flattened grass and deer tracks in the mud that soon turn to rocks and exposed roots in the slight depression called a trailŠPatches of narrow sword-like native irises and newly sprouting violet leaves appear in shaded, moist areasŠHow will the creek song change as it breaks around a boulder or a log? Could I hear a deer or a mountain lion lapping at its surface? How attuned to this unnamed Yuba watershed “porous way” can I become?…The wind circles, carving space around me as though I have been sitting here for hundreds of years.
The titles of some of the other contributions in the book provide a flavor of what is to come, such as “In the Shadow of Manzanita,” “The Saga of the Cranberry,” “Learning from the Woods,” “Meadow Restoration in the Inimim Forest,” and “Winter Rain Children.”
This is a book that stimulates the mind and nurtures our hearts, inspiring each of us to help create meaningful communities where we live. Ultimately, it will only be through winning the hearts and minds of people that we will begin to care more deeply about the places where we live, and through this learn to treat nature with respect and even kindness. This beautifully written and illustrated book can inspire us to do just that.
The Nature Of This Place: Investigations and Adventures in the Yuba Watershed
by Bruce Boyd and Liese Greensfelder, editors. 2011.
Comstock Bonanza Press, Grass Valley, CA.
217 pages. $20.00, soft cover. ISBN# 978-0-933994-49-2.