The Birds, the City, and Mt. Wanda

This week I trekked back to Mt. Wanda. The 580 feet (fairly small) mountain was first beloved by the Ohlone tribes, then utilized by the Spaniards and ranchers, and eventually protected and appreciated by John Muir and his family. Today, it belongs to all of us. This means anyone and everyone can visit, breathe in the fresh air provided by the oak groves and the bay trees, and enjoy the views from atop of the mountain. John Muir’s National Historic Site’s (NHS) Mt. Wanda unit is unique. I am not just stating this because I work here, but because after much contemplation and time spent studying this site I have come to find that it has so much to offer. John Muir NHS is in a very popular urban area, the East Bay. The East Bay area is part of the larger San Francisco metropolitan area, which has a total population of seven million people (according to the 2010 census) and a copious number of tourists every year. The Bay Area is known for its struggle to conserve and preserve land in the face of an increasingly urban world. Fortunately, environmentalists, conservationists and park advocates have won many battles here. Mt. Wanda provides an escape for so many urban dwellers. When you get to the top of Mt. Wanda you are free of the din of city noises, save for the sounds of the birds around you who call the mountain home. However, when you leave the nature trail and go out of the oak tree groves you experience the site of Martinez and the San Pablo Bay. This includes roads, gas stations, rows of homes, hills, trees, water, and the Chevron oil refinery. It is such an interesting site which inevitably makes you contemplate your existence and your place in this city/nature dichotomy that is often instilled in us when we live in a city. The truth is that we need more places like Mt. Wanda. Every city needs a Mt. Wanda. Everyone needs a place to escape and to contemplate.┬áNatural settings can be places of self-reflection and respite, among many other things. We are coerced to live a fast-paced lifestyle of high productivity, however, quiet serene places serve to pull us away from that and bring us back into the present. When you are surrounded by trees, birds, bees, plants and all the other living organisms that are associated with nature, you are compelled to think about how the world can produce such magnificent things and that they are worth defending. On my way back down the hill I saw a hawk come down from the sky and pick up a mouse. It stood there for a while and I thought I would be able to get close enough to take a good picture, but after staring at me for a few seconds it flew away. Oh well!

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