Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lagunitas Vernal Pools

What I miss this morning: tri-colored blackbirds trilling in the sedges that once grew near vernal pools strung along Sir Francis Drake Blvd. from White's Hill at the Woodacre turn-off to Forest Knolls at Lagunitas School.

The name Lagunitas means "little lagoons." My grandmother said that in the 1920s-40s, the San Geronimo Valley was strewn with myriad pools all the way to the hamlet of Lagunitas. The fog always remembers where the pools once were, and lankers down for a visit.

The few surviving pools were lost in my lifetime, destroyed by well-meaning folks turning those fragile, ephemeral marsh wetlands into drained pasturage for horses and cattle. The County of Marin had grandiose plans to develop the San Geronimo Valley with 5000 more houses, a shopping mall, and in anticipation, they built a ziggurat embankment for a high school at the base of White's Hill at the Flanders ranch, and bulldozed all the marshes on the east side of the road.

All that's left of this pool is the teasel.
The Dixons, converted their ranch over to horse boarding stables, built a jumping course, and wiped out another pool. Someone ran cattle in the vee at the first Woodacre turnoff (the old road), where it joins the straight, new roadbed of Sir Francis Drake. Under their hooves, the last and most pristine vernal pool in the San Geronimo Valley disappeared forever.

In Forest Knolls, the Frenches bought the old Borillo ranch and boarded fancy horses, they drained the marsh below the pool at Lagunitas School for more pasturage. The blackbirds gathered and reeled in clouds as the school bus lumbered by each day. It was the peregrine falcon's favorite dining spot. We'd watch him dive down from the sky and smack! Lunch was served.

We knew the names of many birds because each spring, Mrs. Terwilliger in her big floppy hat and long, baggy clothes, came to visit our school with her white van full of real and stuffed birds. I too have kept dead birds in my freezer.

The San Geronimo Valley Golf Course (developed in anticipation of that new subdivision) destroyed several pools behind the Frenches-toward Roys' Woods, and more wetlands at the old Dollar ranch in San Geronimo near the fish ladder by Creamery Road.

The Marin Municipal Water District scraped off a few more pools at what became our San Geronimo Valley Horsemens' Association arena. (I was junior president, Stephanie Stone was vice president.) The rent was a dollar a year.

The arena was placed on top of marshland, and stayed damp under the tanbark. One time as we were cantering in tight figure-eights, my horse hit a wet patch beneath, slipped and fell, we went down in slo-mo, tanbark banking our fall. The ghost ancestors of flowers.

The demise of the ephemeral vernal pools. All gone now. Never to return. Not in our lifetime or even in our great-grandchildren's lifetime. The pools took thousands, if not millions of years, to form. A slow garden.

I remember the descending bathtub rings of flowers—each species, a different color, each taking their turn to bloom. This is where I learned the names of flowers: butter & eggs, meadowfoam (linanthus), baby blue eyes, popcorn flower, fiddlenecks, meadowgold, what we called snapdragons (downingia?), tidytips, and last to arrive, the tangy-scented tarweed, all out of breath.

I mourn the destruction of those fragile pools, like ancient vernal timepieces of the past, some, millions of years old, each with their own special sub-species of rare plants, salamanders and fairy brine shrimp—species that grew nowhere else in the world, in some cases, in no other vernal pool in the world—destroyed in the name of animal husbandry.We baptized it and blessed it and called it progress before we knew what it was we had lost.

The tri-colored redwing blackbird no longer sings in the sedges across most of California. Endemic only to California, their census numbers are now countable. Not a good sign. Once they blackened the sky with their countless multitudes. Their days are numbered like all the rest.

Read my post about the loss of vernal pools at the Petaluma-Novato Dump in 2009.

Some links and information on California vernal pools.

California Native Plant Society has some great photos of pools in bloom by John Game. The last remaining pristine swaths of vernal pool systems in the Sacramento Valley (Mather) and Merced (slated for a new university campus) are under threat.

A link to San Diego's ephemeral pools and the preservation process. Another link to the vernal pools of Santa Rosa Plateau (San Diego).

California wetlands information system map of vernal pools. Novato and Lagunitas are not on the wetlands map. But Chileno Valley pools are listed.

Audubon launches effort to partner with farmers to safeguard vulnerable Tricolored Blackbirds

There is an artificial vernal pool on Lucas Valley Road at Las Gallinas, created by the dyking off of water by the roadbed. Each year my cousin Sinead and I marvel that a mallard family shows up each year to raise a family in that tiny aquatic pool. Perhaps I'll post some pix later.

I'm not sure if this is a tricolor blackbird, at the Marin County Civiv Center lagoon. 

Note bene: these land photos are from 2008, not 2012—a MoHead initiated Picasa blooper. Too much trouble to fix. The previous bird photos are from 2012. Photo below is from 2019. I'm not sure any of them are the rare tricolor blackbirds. The problem is that I haven't even seen one in at least three decades!

Kathrin Swoboda took an extraordinary photo of a redwing blackbird where you can see the epaulets and she graciously said that I could use it. She thinks it's not a tricolor. Visit her on Facebook, https://kathrinswobodaphotography.comor on Instagram at novanature.

Kathrin Instagram: novanature


Free2Be said...

Thank you for your beautiful but sad memories.
The way in which you put words together makes me go into deep thought.
I moved to San Geronimo in 1973 but much of this
Destruction of the pools had already taken place and I had never heard this history before finding your blog.
The valley holds so much meaning to me that I bought 10 pristine acres in Nicasio. I go there to meditate, it is my sanctuary.

Pearl Arrow said...

I've also lived in San Geronimo Valley 19 years, first in Forest Knolls; the last 12 in Woodacre. I so appreciate learning about the vernal pools system here for millennia; tho gone before I arrived, I sensed their presence. I will look at things so differently now thru your taking such good care to describe how it was. The French Ranch homes were not here the first several years, so one could walk around the golf course and enjoy species that seem all but gone now: muskrat in the golf course ponds, big turtles, types of salamander and lizards I never see now, jackrabbits galore, often fox, and many more owls and bluebirds galore, even your beloved blackbirds, tho not many, would cry at dusk. I still see skunk there sometimes, and signs of mountain lion, but rarely deer which used to be prolific. I see does and fawns around, but a long time since I've spotted a buck with a beautiful rack of antlers. I will look to see (happened on your blog by chance) if you've written more about how The Valley used to be, since you and your family have been here so long. Thank you for enriching my experience of this still lovely place. J-A Warner

Maureen Hurley said...

Dear Pearl Arrow,

Thank you for your kind comments and memories, yes, the Valley has changed a lot since the 1950s. Wow, lucky you, having seen a muskrat. I never did. Turtles, yes. And the big salamanders, now they were something else! Godzilla-like. We used to call them moving poops. And they barked like dogs. Weird beasts.

I do have hot links to the right, check out Forest Knolls, Lagunitas, and San Geronimo Valley links, etc. They'll take you to the SGV posts. Also, the titles in CAPS are poems, if that helps (or not.)

So I often go to Toby's to grab a latte, maybe I'll see you there sometime? I was on Brian Kervin's poetry show last year. It was interesting to come full circle.

Dear Free2be, so sorry I never responded to your kind comments. Where in Nicasio? Maybe I'll see you there sometime. My cousin's white farmhouse is on the bend in the square, across from 2nd base. Yeah, the place where cars crash into—even my new-to-me car was totaled there too.

Thank you both for reading and responding. Sometimes I despair, I've given up trying to get my work published. Today was especially bad. Yet another rejection letter. I thought: why bother? So you both have given me a gift in return.