I believe in preserving urban wilderness.
Twenty years ago I found myself alone with two young children. Divorce had shattered my sense of direction and made me lose my nerve. One autumn evening, sitting in my tiny blue and yellow kitchen in Berkeley, California, I picked up a pale gray paperpack called “The East Bay Out, A Personal Guide to the East Bay Regional Parks,” by Malcolm Margolin. Over the next two years Mr. Margolin became my navigator and my life preserver. Nearly every Saturday morning my children and I packed our copy of Margolin’s book along with three peanut butter and jellies on rye, a thermos of milk, and chocolate-chip cookies. We set off in our little blue Toyota bound for the parks, coves, deltas, horse stables, and forests of the East Bay Regional Parks.
I never thanked Margolin for being my family’s guide to the wilderness, but I should have. Like the wardrobe in Sinclair Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” the book transported us to another world, to the heart of nature’s magic. We poured over maps of parks and studied Margolin’s descriptions of hills and mountains, deer and frogs, newts and bunnies. I read aloud passages from the book, which is really a love poem to nature. Margolin writes that the park wanderer can find “clumps of mushrooms, marmalade orange and sulphur yellow, glowing softly in the leaf litter of a dark forest.” Doesn’t that sound delightful? In these parks my daughter listened to the rustle of field mice and quail, my son counted the legs on a tiny sow bug, and we all followed the flights of red-tailed hawks gliding on updrafts above canyons of bay and laurel.
We learned to see the shadows of the past. We travelled along the same shores of the Carquinez Straits that Native Americans explored in their tule boats, searching for king salmon. We traced faded engravings on stones that marked the lives and deaths of Welsh miners at Black Diamond Mines. We walked behind plow horses of nineteenth century farmers at Ardenwood. Most recently we spotted rainbow trout as they returned to dark pools in Redwood Park, trout that nearly disappeared from their native woodland creeks
I believe in the transformative power of wilderness. Our trips into the East Bay Regional Parks stilled the chaos of our lives, gave us time to heal and forge new connections. When nature in all its grandeur and beauty is easily accessible through public parks, it has a profound and lasting power to change the world–one person, one rock, one bird, one frog, at a time.
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