Miraloma Life Online – February 2008

  • Cub Scout Troupe 351
  • From the President…
  • Trail Map of Mount Davidson
  • Backyards Tour
  • Disaster Meeting Place
  • Legal Ease
  • Design Matters
  • The Moving Meditation of Tai Chi
    Returns to Sunnyside Park
  • Miraloma Park Clubhouse
  • The Rain it Raineth Every Day
  • Mushrooms on the Mountain
  • It’s an Emergency!
  • Flight
  • Have a Recipe to Share?
  • Living Large in Muir Woods
  • Construction Update

The Miraloma Park Improvement Club Salutes
Cub Scout Troupe 351
for Outstanding Community Service

Editor’s note:
In January, we described how a dedicated group of Cub Scouts (Pack 351) removed graffiti from several locations on Mount Davidson. We attempted to honor them by placing a banner on the front page but mistakenly garbled the Pack’s numbers. We hope this replacement banner emphasizes how proud we are of Cub Scout Pack 351.

From the President…

by Phil Laird

The Board of Directors thanks everyone who has sent in their membership dues for 2008, and encourages those who have not to do so. The membership form is printed elsewhere in this issue. Occasionally questions arise as to who is eligible to be a member. Membership is limited to residents of Miraloma Park—both homeowners and renters—and to those who own businesses here. Miraloma Park is bounded, roughly, by Portola Drive on the north, O’Shaughnessy Blvd. on the east, Melrose Ave. on the south, and Miraloma Drive on the west. An invisible boundary along Lulu Alley crossing Los Palmos, Burlwood, and Cresta Vista separates Miraloma Park from Westwood Park.

Membership in the Miraloma Park Improvement Club provides a number of benefits, tangible and intangible. Our ability to speak and act as a community to obtain the services we need from the city depends on the strength of our membership numbers. We also gain valuable opportunities to meet and work with our neighbors. And M.P.I.C. members receive a substantial discount when renting the Miraloma Park Clubhouse for private events.

Another benefit, available regardless of any membership, are the three extraordinary open-space areas located right here. These are, of course, Mt. Davidson, Twin Peaks, and Glen Canyon. At 935 feet, Mt. Davidson is the highest point in the city (woohoo!). The concrete cross at the summit is actually on a patch of private property owned by the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California. Mt. Davidson Park is small enough that one can explore the numerous trails without fear of getting lost. You should, however, be careful in a couple of places with steep drop-offs. Ron Proctor, Webmaster for MiralomaPark.org, recently created a trail map for Mt. Davidson and posted it on the site. Visit the site and click on the link “Mt. Davidson Trail Map.” Those without Internet access can leave a message on the MPIC voicemail (415-281-0892), and I’ll send you a copy. Another site, MtDavidson.org, describes the colorful history of the park and its significant role in San Francisco city planning. (The phone number posted on the site is 415-584-8694.)

Twin Peaks, with an elevation of about 922 feet, is the second-highest point in the city (woohoo!!) and a popular vista point for tourists. Though the summit is cluttered with radio equipment, the view is great (fog permitting), and the surrounding slopes have been largely restored to native grassland and habitat for indigenous flora and fauna. Richard Brandi publishes an interesting history of Twin Peaks, from the original Mexican land grant to the present time, on the web site www.outsidelands.org/forest-fires.php. (Posted mail address: Western Neighborhoods Project, P.O. Box 460936 San Francisco, CA 94146-0936.)

But for me Glen Canyon Park is the jewel of the three. Part of the Twin Peaks formation, it encompasses an elevation change of about 350 feet from top to bottom. Visitors can enter at the lower end from Bosworth St. or Elk St., where the ball fields, tennis courts, and recreation center are located. Or they can approach from the top: a trail descends from the Christopher Playground beside the Diamond Heights shopping center, and another adjacent to #48 Turquoise St. The many paths wind along hillsides, around rock formations, and through a riparian glen fed by a small creek. Most of all, the canyon is simply beautiful. Its character changes dramatically with time of day and time of year. I see new things every time I hike through it. But some caution is needed: a couple of the trails are steep, so small children should be carefully supervised.

Like Mt. Davidson and Twin Peaks, Glen Canyon Park is designated a Significant Natural Resources Area (SNRA) by the Recreation and Parks Department and as such is managed under a long-term plan to restore the park to a more natural and sustainable state. Eucalyptus trees planted by Adolph Sutro in the mid 1800’s and stands of invasive French Broom shrubbery are gradually being removed or allowed to expire. Restoring the plants native to the area promotes biodiversity and is expected to support the return of native fauna. And Miraloma Park’s most literate “Coyote Laureate”, familiar to readers of Miraloma Life, lives somewhere in the park with his/her family, probably in the dense brush below O’Shaughnessy Blvd.

A small but dedicated volunteer group, the Friends of Glen Canyon, spends mornings on the third Saturday of each month doing habitat restoration. Volunteers are welcome. A description of their activities is posted at www.sustainable-city.org/orgs/. (Posted phone numbers: Richard Craib: (415) 648-0862, or Jean Conner: (415) 584-8576.) So if you haven’t visited these parks recently, you have something to look forward to, especially in spring when all the wildflowers are in bloom. So log off the Internet and come out to see who’s alive in the real world.

Trail Map of Mount Davidson

by Ron Proctor

I created a trail map of Mount Davidson to encourage the use of the numerous trails of this beautiful San Francisco treasure – our urban forest called Mount Davidson. Did you know that this mountain, in the backyard of Miraloma Park, is the highest in San Francisco, at 935 feet elevation? It is a 38 acre park with a huge eucalyptus forest that obstructs many views; however, there are two main viewing areas: 1) north to the city skyline and the Marin Headlands and 2) south to San Bruno Mountain, the Excelsior district and City College.

The first 20 acres of Mount Davidson were purchased from the developer, A.S. Baldwin, and dedicated as a city park in December 1929 after a 3 year campaign to save the open space by Madie Brown. Originally called Blue Mountain, it was renamed for George Davidson, an internationally famous scientist and longtime President of the California Academy of Sciences in 1911.

The trails can be confusing when you are walking in the dense growth of eucalyptus and pine trees. There are no signs to indicate which trail goes where; be it to the western side of the mountain to the West Portal district, or to the eastern ridge (which now has a bench) for a view of the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tam. So I decided to hand draw this map of the trails. Where do you begin to enter Mount Davidson Park? There are 7 access points for hiking into Mount Davidson:

1) A beautiful stone stairway next to 275 Juanita Way for the Juanita Trail.
2) Two entrance paths through thick shrubs in the 100 block of La Bica St.
3) Near 185 Dalewood is a trail which joins the trail coming up from Juanita, the Juanita Trail.
4) Near 39 Dalewood for the 0.24 mile dirt “fire” road entrance (Saint Croix Road)
5) The “Main” trail (Sherwoord Trail) is behind the Muni bus stop shelter for Route 36 and at the end of Lansdale.
6) Next to 925 Rockdale Drive is a stone stairway leading to a trail
7) At the end of Molimo Dr – next to 513 Molino – is access to a steep trail with great views on the way up to the eastern lookout area.

Links to print out a copy of this map are:
On the Mt. Davidson website (http://www.mtdavidson.org/) – click on the Contact link on the main page for the link to Mount Davidson Trail Map. The actual link from this site is: http://mtdavidson.org/mount_davidson_trail_map

On the Miraloma Park Improvement Club website (http://www.miralomapark.org/) under the Local Resources section on the home page look for the link to Mt. Davidson Trail Map. The actual link is: http://www.miralomapark.org/wp-content/files/MtDavidsonTrails.pdf

I hope you enjoy the trails as much as I do!

Backyards Tour

Plans for the Miraloma Park Improvement Club’s 2008 Backyard and Garden Tour are progressing well. Many neighbors have agreed to show off their wonderful backyards and gardens. There is still room for a few more. If you are a resident of Miraloma Park and have enhanced your backyard, sideyard or frontyard and would be willing to share your ideas with your neighbors please call the clubhouse at 281-0892 and leave a message for JoAnn. The tour will take place on Sunday, May 18, 2008 in the afternoon. Please share your treasure with us.

Disaster Meeting Place

When disaster strikes, go to the NERT Incident Command Center at Miraloma Playground (Omar Way & Sequoia Way). Rescue services, securing resources like food, water, shelter and medical services will be provided by trained volunteers.

Legal Ease

by Mary Catherine Wiederhold, Esq.

Do you want to make a will or get a divorce? Do you need help dealing with the IRS regarding back taxes? Have you been charged with a crime, had bill collectors calling you day and night or been involved in an automobile accident? If you need a lawyer where do you start looking?

The Bar Association of San Francisco has a program called the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS). LRIS can be reached at (415) 989-1616 or http://www.sfbar.org/. Once you call, you will speak with an interviewer who is experienced in analyzing potential legal problems. If a lawyer’s advice is recommended, an appointment will be made for you, usually within two business days. You will then be referred to an attorney who has met established standards of professional experience in the area of law that relates to your legal matter. In order to help the attorney understand your particular problem, you should bring all relevant documents and information, such as the names, addresses and telephone numbers of people involved and all documents, such as lease agreements, diagrams, or contracts.

There is a $25.00 administrative for the initial thirty minute consultation. You are under no obligation to retain the attorney to whom you are referred. If you hire the attorney, you should discuss fees with the attorney during the initial consultation.

Mary Catherine Wiederhold is an attorney and lives in Miraloma Park.

Design Matters

Peter A. Zepponi, AIA – Architect

This column addresses basic residential design and home improvement topics of interest to Miraloma Park residents. If you have a question or topic you’d like considered please email to: pazdesignmatters@aol.com or call 415.334.2868. http://www.zepponi-architects.com/

Q: What is the new code?
A: The UBC has been replaced by the IBC.

As of January 1, 2008 there is a new California Building Code (CBC) that has gone into effect. The old California code was based upon the 2001 Uniform Building Code. California has always had specific laws and geographical requirements that had to be amended into the code so generally about 1 year after the publication of the new edition of the UBC, California would issue its amended version of the CBC. Then on top of that of course San Francisco has its own whole set of amendments which supercede the California amendments. And so, this is the way it has been for many years. Every few years the UBC would get updated and everyone in the construction industry would get the new edition and life would go on as normal. But that is not what has happened on January 1, 2008. This year the UBC has been replaced by the IBC. This is the new 2006 International Building Code which is very different than the old UBC. California has made its amendments and is now enforcing the 2007 CBC.

The International Building Code is a compilation of different building codes across the United States. Each region of the country had its own model building code. Out here in the West we had the Uniform Building Code, which was different than say the Southern Building Code. The IBC has been a long work in progress that had tried to unify all the codes across the country into one single code. This is a very ambitious project, but makes sense to try and have one standard code. But it is very difficult because California has a lot of state specific laws about classroom sizes, accessibility, earthquakes, etc. that all need to rectified in the new code. Time will tell to see how well they managed to sort it out.

But the largest impact is that a lot of things that we have come to know to be true are no longer true. That has everyone wondering what the impact will be. Personally I’ve been working with the UBC for about 20 years, so naturally you start to memorize certain parts of the code to the point where it is almost gospel. But now everyone has to learn a new code. It’s not completely new, but enough that you’ll have to spend the time researching any new projects to make sure nothing has changed, and several things have changed. I spent all day at a seminar last month reviewing all the new code changes and came away with enough information to determine that very few people know the new code including the building inspectors, except that the building inspectors have been preparing for the change a lot longer than most design professionals. This is why the building department has been very busy the last couple of weeks with everyone trying to submit projects that were still under the old code. But that window has closed and now we all have to embrace the new order.

The important thing for homeowners to know is that there is a new code in effect that virtually no one has a full grasp of yet. That will slow things down in the design and approval processes. Also make certain of the source of any advice you get regarding a new project. Even the architects are not all up to speed, so if your contractor tells you something as a certainty, ask if they know the new code changes because some old school rules of thumb have definitely changed.

* This column and its content are intended to be a source of general information. Applicability to your specific project should be verified.

The Moving Meditation of Tai Chi
Returns to Sunnyside Park

Tai Chi returns to Sunnyside Park on Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 9:30 AM and will continue every Saturday, weather permitting. Classes will be held on the new Plaza located half way up or down the hillside. They are free and anyone of any age or physical ability is welcome, including those who have never practiced Tai Chi. Classes will once again be taught by Master Oliver Chu who will guide students through a “24 Mainland” form.

Tai Chi is often referred to as a “moving meditation” although there is nothing slow and lethargic about its practice. Whether one spends a lot of time training, or if practice outside class consists of nothing more than repeating simple principles in the course of daily activities, the entwined round of exercise movements inevitably leave people feeling calmer, more focused, relaxed, and energized. Elders speak of improved balance and everyone can develop a greater range of motion and sense of well being by focusing on various body organs and energy centers.

This is an opportunity to begin the weekend with renewed and transformed energy and take home something to draw upon anywhere and at anytime. Tai Chi can be practiced alone or with others and is a wonderful way to meet more neighbors and enjoy your neighborhood park. For more information or to be placed on the e-mail notification list, please write to taichiparks@aol.com.

Miraloma Park Clubhouse

The beautiful original wood has been refurbished. There is a clean gas burning fireplace to add that extra bit of cheer to your special event. New colorful curtains grace the stage. There are modern, lightweight tables and new really comfortable chairs.

And there is a new piano for your enjoyment. Free parking is in the adjacent parking lot. Members get a discount. Trash and recycling available. Call 415-281-0892 for rates/availability.

The Rain it Raineth Every Day

It truly astonishing how much influence our neighborhood canid has with at least some of the powers that be: our spanking new garbage can, fresh from the good folks at mighty Sunset Scavenger who (said the supervisor who phoned to alert us of its arrival) had heard the pleas (in our second-last issue) of M. Coyote regarding the derelict shape of the old can (and agreed something must urgently be done to prevent our reputation’s sinking even lower), boasted, neatly taped to the underside of its shiny lid on perfumed stationery and written in elegant script, the following communication (Is this sentence too long for you? Well, it scans, doesn’t it, so truncate at your peril, I’ve got better things to do—but Marcel Proust or Henry James would have considered it brief and puny, and they are hardly to be sneezed at, so consider yourself lucky!).
— Ed

Kind Editor,

Will no one rid me of this sluice gate that appears to have opened in the sky, or of the nattering of campaigning creatures, four- and two-legged, so persistent it might as while be the rain? I have just finished plugging the third leak today in my once cozy den, and was so coated with mud from the effort that I actually exposed myself to the vigorous showers to wash clean. At least the storm helps repair its own nasty effects, unlike the other torrent up with which I’ve been putting of late, volumes of hyper-reactive words pouring untreated from the mouths of politicians trying to convince us that one is worse than the other. They have not even begun the California campaign in earnest, but already the turbulence is troubling to any peace-loving quadruped, though I imagine you bipedal types have thicker skins calloused through repeated experience. Why not harness these politicos to generators, so at least their tirades will help with the heating bills this chilly winter? In all likelihood, we’d save so much energy PG&E could lower the cost from horrific to merely shocking. And all the money spent on this blather and venom could well be used to close the budget deficit, house the homeless, and treat the uninsured, with no one less truthfully informed about the candidates than they are already. Ah, democracy, ah humanity! How fortunate am I not to be one of you.

Yet, my friends, so great is my compassion for all creatures that I make now a proposal, modest but well meant—and that is to elect me, the most sensible animal in or out of the contest, as your leader for a term or two. Though it would take me far from my dear mountain and my (for now) snug den, and expose me to winds far harsher than those on my hillside, I would be willing to make this sacrifice, so much sympathy do I feel for your plight (and in anticipate of the six squares that will be my due while in office). My record speaks for itself, so unlend me your ears, I need not rant on about how much better I am and how much worse they are: single-footedly and equitably, I have settled bitter divisions and debates among my compatriots in the squirrel and chipmunk communities, among the crow and sparrow contingents, and even within the raccoon and skunk cohorts.
All know that I am unimpeachably fair in my dealings, above-board and honest, and that—unlike your intemperate politicos, I actually deliver on my promises. Did I not say that I would increase the food supply for all my fellow animals? And have I not in fact done that? I have, and at great cost to my own well-being, required to stuff myself painfully full with those I could catch of all species, so that the others might eat well at the table vacated by their companions. What more earnest sacrifice could I make? No talk of budget cuts, necessary pain, and deprivation for my constituency—no! I take it all upon myself, and for their benefit. So I say, my dear neighbors, vote the Coyote ticket, and prosperity will be yours. Happy days are here at last, or you won’t be around to worry about it.

Ah! Excuse me please, my dears, but I must be going. An unseemly racket has burst forth from behind the bushes at my doorway, and once again I must play the peacemaker. All will be well—I know just how to handle these little squabbles and leave everybody happy. Sounds like the raccoons again, though the crows, devious featherheads that they are, will sometimes imitate other creatures to throw me off. No matter, though I must approach everybody differently, in the end they all get the same treatment. No favoritism, no nepotism, here. You get what you see, and just see what you get.

Your most affectionate servant and candidate,
W. Coyote, Esq.

Mushrooms on the Mountain

by Emma Bland Smith

My younger brother, who lives in the Sunset District but frequently forages and explores all over the city on his bike, called in early January, shortly after a rain, to say that he’d found a cluster of cool mushrooms right near my house. He picked one, and I saw it later at his home, in all its red-and-white glory, standing tall and dignified in a water glass. This was the famed Amanita muscaria, the most iconic of Poison Mushrooms: an orangey-red toadstool with white spots atop a tall, milky-white stem. He said he’d found them on a grassy slope at the intersection of Bella Vista and Burlwood.

It was a thrill I couldn’t pass up. Although I sheepishly admit to not being a fan of eating mushrooms, hunting for them holds a certain appeal. When I was a little girl, my parents co-wrote, illustrated and self-published a guide to finding mushrooms in San Francisco. (It’s out of print, but contact me if you want one!) They were members of the Mycological Society and every Sunday morning in the wet season found us tramping around Land’s End plucking fairy rings, shaggy manes and puff balls from beneath the coastal pines, or driving to Marin for chanterelles. Every now and then my dad still comes home from San Francisco State University, where he teaches, with a fat porcini plucked from the lawn.

So the next day, my two-year-old, Everett, my mom, and I headed over to Bella Vista and Burlwood. We saw them immediately—who could not? The steep hillside was peppered with red-and-white. We clambered about, unsure about our legal status here. Were we on public property or private? Would anyone object? We surreptitiously stooped down before a few of the most spectacular Amanita (I loved the ones with the most vivid color contrast; my mom was wowed by sheer size), gently dug our fingers deep into the soft soil to try to extract the root without breaking the stem, and came home with several specimens, lovely in their freshness and Technicolor perfection.

I kind of liked the idea of leaving them on my kitchen counter and making visitors—particularly dinner guests—nervous. Amanita muscaria are the stuff of fairy tales. Just the sight of them gives nervous nellies a stomach ache. But when I asked my dad about them, he told me that they’re not actually very poisonous. You’d have to eat a lot to make anything happen, and even then, the effect would be more hallucinogenic than anything else. Indeed, they are often sought out by daring souls for that very purpose. According to Wikipedia, Amanita muscaria “has a religious significance in Siberian culture and possibly also in ancient Indian and Scandinavian cultures.” The site goes on to call it “the fungal equivalent of a weed in southeastern Australia.” Hmm. Well, I, for one, am proud to have such a famous flora growing right here in our own humble neighborhood.

Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines

The Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines were adopted in 1999 by the City Planning Commission to promote preservation of neighborhood character by encouraging residential design compatible with neighborhood setting. Residential Design Guidelines can facilitate the complex and often frustrating process of permit application and design review and can prevent costly and time-consuming Discretionary Review proceedings. Guidelines at http://www.miralomapark.org/.

It’s an Emergency!

Up in the tree the black
phone repairman lops
deftly
the limbs leaning
on the wires.

Down the hill
the bitter old German lady
screams her fool head off
the phone
the phone’s off.

The black man smiles
wider
and wider
and all around him branches
fall.

It’s an emergency if
you don’t fix
my phone in 2 minutes
I’ll have your
job I’ll sue you.

Well, Lady, you better
call your lawyer right now
‘cause I can’t
get down this tree in
2 minutes.

65 years ago Jesse Owens stretches
for the last hurdle
and smiles and
he’s still stretching and
it’s still an emergency.

Copyright©Dan Liberthson, 2006

Flight

Days and days of rain past,
the cloud breaks open and lets
a shard of blue show through.
Just there, at eleven o’clock,
a hovering hawk slightly rocks
side to side, tail and wing feathers
feeling to hold the shifting wind.
Suddenly, silently, celebrant he
stoops into a double barrel-roll
to thrill his close-trailing mate.
My lungs try to draw up and in
the whole sky
wracked with adoration
while she tips her wings
lightly, steadies, shows
no sign of being swept away.

Copyright©Dan Liberthson, 2006

Have a Recipe to Share?

Many folks at the M.P.I.C. holiday party in December, delighted with the dishes contributed by the guests, have asked each other for the recipes. We invite you to send us your favorite recipe and have it published in these pages. You can email a recipe to miralomapark@gmail.com or mail it to 350 O’Shaughnessy Blvd., 94127.

Joanne Whitney won a prize for Brandy Sweet Potatoes:
7-8 medium-size sweet potatoes (must be sweet potatoes, yams will not work)
Cup or more of Brandy (Cognac is better)
8-12 ounces of unsalted butter
Salt to taste
Plenty of freshly ground pepper
Light brown sugar
Boil sweet potatoes in salted water until pierceable by fork. Remove skins. Mash with butter and brandy until smooth. Can adjust amount of butter and brandy to taste. Add salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking dish. Top with light brown sugar and thinly sliced pieces of butter. Cover, bake at 375 degrees for about an hour. Serves: 4. Cooking time: about 1 ½ hours. Can be expanded to serve a larger crowd.

Living Large in Muir Woods

by Geoffrey Coffey

The trappings of prosperity pursued by contemporary city dwellers emphasize the appeal of “living large,” hinting that the ends of financial aggrandizement will justify any means. But in the Bay Area, we also enjoy a wealth of nearby natural resources that remind us of just how small any one person remains in the grander scheme of Earth. These two sides of the spectrum curve back on each other to meet in the old-growth redwood forest of Muir Woods, located only 15 miles north of San Francisco’s financial district yet rooted in a time that predates our mercantile madness by millions of years.

Here the coast redwood Sequoia sempervirens, the largest tree species in the world, grows to heights of 250 feet and dwarfs the oak, bay, madrone, and douglas fir that usually dominate the canopy of northern California forests. Walking among these giants, one feels the hushed weight of history, a sense of being watched over by the elders. In fact, many of these specimens here were already reaching for the clouds when Columbus set sail – the mature trees of Cathedral and Bohemian groves average between 600 and 800 years old, with the eldest at least 1,100 years old and perhaps more. These are still young for a redwood, which can live to more than 2,200 years of age and grow over 350 feet tall.

First-time visitors to Muir Woods often crane their necks and stare upward like tourists in downtown Manhattan, spellbound at the spectacle of the skyscraping trees. But don’t forget to look down – the understory deserves its share of attention too, especially now at the beginning of the year when some of our greatest botanical treasures come into bloom. For example, the slinkpod or fetid adder’s tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii) emerges from underground in the wet weeks of late January, a low-growing foil to the redwoods’ dizzying heights. This member of the lily family features a single pair of clasped basal leaves sheathing two or three flower stems per plant, each blossom an unusual yellowish-green mottled in stripes of purple and brown. The long, narrow petals and high tri-forked stile give this flower the appearance of an orchid, while its elusive tendency accounts for the homage it receives from native plant fanciers. After the flower is pollinated, the stem will gently keel over to deposit the seed pod on the forest floor, hence the cognomen “slinkpod” and the source of the generic name (Scoliopus means “crooked foot” in Greek).

Also in the lily family, two species of Trillium (T. ovatum and T. chloropetalum) grace these woods every February. The former has a white blossom aging to pink, while the latter can be yellow to dark purple with a sweet rose-like or spicy scent. Arising from a rhizome, each delicate three-petalled flower is subtended by a whorl of three leaves on a single stem, like a delicate ballerina nodding over a green tutu. Difficult in the garden and demanding great patience from the commercial grower (plants grown from seed can require seven years before blooming), the trillium commands top dollar in the marketplace and stands among the most prized jewels in horticulture. (Bay Natives nursery, the San Francisco source for California native plants, offers one of the best trillium selections in the state – find them online at <http://baynatives.com/?SC=plant-list.php&fltr=trillium>.

For a great groundcover in sun-challenged yards, look no further than redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), a clover-like perennial that grows throughout these woods and is just coming into flower. Unlike its cousin Oxalis pes-caprae, the pernicious urban weed from South Africa, redwood sorrel occurs naturally in moist conifer forests throughout northern California and the Pacific Northwest, an ecologically friendly addition to any planned landscape in the Bay Area. Here in Muir Woods, the delicate leaves and white-to-pink blossoms create a soft horizontal texture that balances the soaring vertical lines of the trees, an effect that also works well in the garden.

A single redwood may evoke gasps of historic vertigo (the oldest living specimens today were saplings before the birth of Christ), but the species itself provides even greater perspective, a glimpse back to the age of dinosaurs. In the late Jurassic period, a variety of redwood-like trees covered most of the Northern Hemisphere. Climate changes over the subsequent 140 million years slowly winnowed their ranks until now only two species remain, both confined to narrow ranges: the coast redwood in a thin and discontinuous 500-mile strip along the Pacific from southern Oregon to Monterey, and the giant sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum in small groves on the western flanks of the high Sierra.
But where the vagaries of nature acted at the glacial speed of evolution, the greed of mankind has morbidly accelerated the dwindle. Old-growth redwood forests, estimated to have covered 2 million acres in the early 19th century, now have been reduced by over 97%. Loggers viewed those vast stands of timber as an infinite, inexhaustible supply, and quickly set off down the path that would prove them mistaken. The 295 acres of Muir Woods encompass the last remaining old-growth redwood forest in the Bay Area, and one of the few remaining in the world.

These ancient trees offer silent yet powerful testimony to the value of natural conservation, and today this forest bears the name of our greatest conservationist – but John Muir actually had nothing to do with the process that spared these trees from the axe. This remote region along Redwood Creek on the southeast corner of Mt. Tam was initially passed over by the logging companies because of its inaccessibility and the steepness of the surrounding valley slopes, rendering the quick extraction of wood infeasible. The parcel was then purchased in 1905 by Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent, who rightly noted the implicit value of an uncut old-growth forest. They maintained their commitment to protect these trees even after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, where the rebuilding effort created enormous demand for lumber. In 1907, the Tamalpais Land and Water Company announced its intention to dam the creek at today’s park entrance and flood the valley, but the Kents thwarted this development too by donating the land to the federal government. Teddy Roosevelt declared the park a national monument the following year, and wanted to name it for William Kent, but the Congressman insisted on a more appropriate moniker. John Muir later told him, “This is the best tree-lover’s monument in all the forests of the world. You have done me great honor, and I am proud of it.”

We should all take pride in Kent’s heroic gesture of a century ago, and aspire to similar heights of selfless integrity. A walk among the redwoods can make a man feel very small, yes, but the simple act of saving them can increase his stature a hundredfold. Living large, indeed. Writer and landscape designer Geoffrey Coffey is planting seeds for the 43rd century. Find his work online at http://www.geoffreycoffey.com/.

Construction Update

Progress is being made on the seismic upgrade and improvements at Stanford Heights Reservoir, located between Agua and Rockdale in the Miraloma Park area.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) contractor SJ Amoroso is continuing retrofit work inside the reservoir. The project started in Fall 2007 and is expected to be finished in Fall 2009. The majority of the work is taking place inside the reservoir basins.

For more information about the project, visit http://www.sfwater.org/ or contact Amy Sinclair, SFPUC Communications, asinclair@sfwater.org or 415-551-4659.