We are used to living within the envelope of human culture, preoccupied with the happiness, cares and concerns of those we love, those we work with, those we live among. We are used to thinking of nature as optional, a recreational facility to enjoy now and then. But when you live smack dab in the middle of it, nature is a major player in your life.
In February of 2000, we moved from the suburbs to a six-sided house on a three acre property. The land lies on an east-west ridge about six miles inland from Santa Cruz, California and 930 feet above sea level. The south slope wants to be thick chaparral; the north slope a mixed evergreen forest, merging with the redwood forest . The narrow flat area around the house is where the builders sliced the top of the ridge off, like the small end of a soft-boiled egg. We have an ocean view, just, and can see the twinkling lights of the Monterey peninsula at night, which is no match for the star-filled open sky above.
We are at risk every summer from wildfires, and from earthquakes at any time. Our water comes from a shared well and our waste goes into a septic tank. The neighborhood, twenty odd families along this shared road, is close-knit and mutually supportive.
It’s taken me many years to truly be here. At first, the trees were a blur of green filled with the twitterings of little brown birds. Now I see madrone and coast live oak, douglas fir and tan oak, redwoods, and monterey pine. I know that the monterey pine was planted and doesn’t really belong here, and that dead madrones don’t fall over, are beautiful (though fire hazardous), and provide nesting places for pigmy nuthatches. I know that one kind of cheep is a chestnut backed chickadee, and another is a bewick’s wren, and that wrentit cheeping is like a bouncing ball, the cheeps coming closer and closer together.
There is still a lot more I don’t know and some days, this is frustrating. Is this a native grass or a weedy one? is one of my perpetual worries. But I’m definitely here now, roots and branches.
Here nature is in charge, not humans, but still we have to manage the land and make compromises. Early explorers and settlers brought grasses from Europe and trees from Australia, and garden plants from all over the world, some of which escape and take over from the local native plants. My main job around here is removing these invasive “exotic” plants. But I also have to thin out the woody vegetation near the house so that if there is a moderate wildfire, we can maybe save the house. If there is a large wildfire, we will pack up the photo albums and leave.
The native people managed the land before us, and burned regularly to promote the growth of food and fiber plants. It was not a wilderness when the Spanish first arrived, and the English and Russians followed, though people saw it as one. But the native people worked with what was here – and there were only about 350,000 of them – not the millions that live in California today.
This site is for people who want to cherish nature’s expression in the spot they call home, and need help getting started.
Though the region where I live is the Central California Coast – the principles of ecological land management are applicable everywhere. It’s just the specifics that differ. Once you get the basic ideas, you can easily pick up the details from your own local networks and resources.
Caring for a natural environment is different from gardening or farming, though your land may contain a garden or a farm. But it is not so difficult. And you don’t have to do it all at once. You will find deep satisfaction in your connection with the land and the creatures that live here – I guarantee it.