May 25, 1989

May 25, 1989


A dozen years ago I bought a twenty acre mountain near Iron Peak and I've been having a love affair with it ever since. It may sound strange to a city dweller for someone to "love" a hunk of real estate, but those who share my love for the land and its inhabitants will know what I mean.

My land is a small sandstone mountain. The real estate agent who first told me about it described it as "a lot you can lean on". That's not true for a third of it; where if you tried to stand or lean on it you would drop about 1500 feet. That cliff assures me that no one can obstruct my view of the ocean. I have not explored that part of the land, but I know every foot of the rest of it. It is a mixed forest containing just about every tree that grows in the area except redwood. That trees can grow here is surprising, because there aren't many places where you can dig a foot down without hitting rock. When I wanted to make a garden, I had to buy or make my soil; there isn't even enough to collect it. Yet this hunk of "worthless" land contains a wide variety of life.

I use about a quarter of an acre for us and the rest is left alone. I do cut downed trees for firewood. The occasional heavy snow insure that there will be so much of that, that I will probably never have to cut down a live tree.

When I had the road cut to the top of the mountain where my house now stands, I looked at it and cried. What had I done to this beautiful place? The man who cut my road assured me that things would grow back where I had wrecked them, and another old-timer assured me that when the noise of building was over, that the wildlife would return. I don't think that I believed either of them; the destruction seemed so final. They were both partially correct. A small piece of land that was denuded when the road was built now has at least one of each kind of tree growing on it. Twenty years from now it will look as if it had never been touched. Tree seedlings are springing up along the sides of the road. The rest of the recovery will have to wait until the cliff recedes and takes the house and road with it. That is not likely to happen in the time of my great-great grandchildren. But it will happen some day. In the scope of geological time, nothing stays unchanged for long. The old-timers were partly right. The ravens still nest in the same tree near my house and the grouse are around during part of the year, as are the rabbits and an occasional bobcat and coyote. Lu saw a bear once, and every year we see bear tracks in the snow. I think that we discouraged the grey fox. He(or she) doesn't come around any more and bark at us for screwing up his land. We found a fox skull last year. There must have been more than one, because we still see fox tracks in the snow on our road every winter. A spotted skunk periodically shares the garage with our two cats. Aside from the time when our male cat, Fritz, smelled like skunk for a month, they have learned to coexist. I watched Lady, our female cat, try to approach the skunk from behind (she has taken on wood rats, ground squirrels and mountain quail), but when its tail went up, she took off. The small pond that we built has attracted life that wasn't here before: frogs, water snakes and perhaps more birds. But the mountain lion, who we heard screaming when we were tenting and whose tracks we saw, is probably gone for good. It prefers quieter places that don't stink of humans. There aren't as many rodents or lizards around the house as there used to be. The cats have taken care of that. With fewer rodents, there are also fewer snakes. I don't miss the rattlesnakes; especially when the grandchildren visit. They're still around, though. I found one at the foot of the mountain last summer, as well as a striped racer and a rubber boa. Except for the lion, I think that everything that was here before is still around. We had to put an electric fence around our flower garden, because the deer love flowers as much as we do.

In short, my wife, two neutered cats and I are now part of this land. I feel impelled to apologize for what I did to the land, even though I know that I have as much of a right to exist as anything here.There is no question that we have disturbed it. We have probably disturbed it more than we had to. Others have built small cabins and haven't caused as much disruption to the land as we have. But we didn't wreck it and most things that were here before have learned to coexist with us. I am glad of that. I had no wish to subdue the land; just to live on it and to love it.

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