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Unmarked Trails


Thursday, April 18, 2013

I am concerned about a blufftop trail crossing some areas of the Gaviota Coast. Years ago, in a much less crowded California, I would not be as worried. Over time, my perspective has evolved. These days, it seems the more beaten the path, the more trampled the place. Not only are we overpopulated but, I think, over-connected. Some spots should be unmentioned, left out of guidebooks, the trails through them left off maps—unmarked as a prize for those with the disposition to chart their own way.

I’m a trail advocate, though much fonder of routes traveled less than traveled more. The solace of an uncrowded arroyo opening to the ocean is profoundly meaningful; perhaps key to feeling at home and grounded.

New trails should respect well-established, indigenous experiences and the essences and dimensions of a place, and should not become just another spot where population pressure and multiuse vent themselves to the coast. Around here, our countless and at times conflicting interests scatter much better inland than along the marginal shore. There are plenty of crowded places beside the ocean and few uncrowded ones. I believe Gaviota best serves us, the future, and indeed itself having both. Healthy roots can grow deep, undisturbed in a quiet arroyo.

Editor’s note: What follows is from the letter-writer’s comments to the California Coastal Commission meeting on the topic of the Gaviota trails.

This is a tale of two arroyos—a pair of mountain drainages near here.

Arroyo one drains high peaks and rolling country to the sea through Space Rock Ranch, a fictional storybook place that really exists.

The hike to the beach is long, an adventure gradually leading away from civilization into place and self awareness. On the way, it’s likely you’ll get poison oak, maybe meet a transient walking the right of way bound for elsewhere, who, for a few days, is holed up in track-side bushes. You’ll definitely encounter barbed wire. Perhaps to pass, you’ll need to talk it over with a bull or coyote. In the summer and fall you’ll probably be greeted by a rattler and pick up a ton of stickers in your socks and some ticks looking for their sweet spot. You’ll leave only your footprints and follow no one’s. By the time you hit shore, you may be a bit stained and worn, branded by rust and bush, apologetic for having stepped on native plants, but by god you have entered home ground and are invigorated by it.

The coast here can take your breath away with its orientation and how it seems unchanged since the Chumash. It’s a place where water can appear horizonless, where the light above and on it is truly heavenly, where islands rest like lazy lizards just beyond reach. The elbow room, the sense of being home, of being safe, of being where you belong without ownership, without permission (in the elemental sense, without trespass), without a purchase, makes you gasp, “This is me. I am part of it.”

There is another arroyo emptying even more mountain rain into the sea. My roots in this one date to the late 1700s. The walk to the beach is altogether different. On the way you can stop for a soda, buy a hat, t-shirt, or other junk from China; read about the local plants and animals, get directions, and hang out with brethren from the four corners of the world. One step beyond the parking lot is sand.

The popular beach walk here can lead you to the man who prefers the other arroyo. He might look like me or a handful of the folks in this audience. He might seem grumpy, or he might greet you with a guarded smile or, if you’re about the only one he crossed paths with that day, engage you in conversation. Regardless, when back in your arroyo in the comfort of your stuff with your people, it’s likely you would notice that there is a difference between you and he, and sense that you have experienced through him a peculiar piece of the essential fabric of Gaviota.

I want the Coastal Commission to know that these two worlds are only so compatible, at least from the perspective of folks who need unfettered elbow room close by, within arm’s length, right here on home ground on an ever more crowded coast.

This is not about view corridors and visual resources.

No one so far today has mentioned overpopulation. My heart is ragged from being gnawed at by the incremental provisions made to the Gaviota Coast to accommodate the endless needs of more people. The widening of a bridge here. The building of an off ramp there. Mile after mile of power lines sprawling nearly Gaviota’s length, the dividing up of once great ranches, new driveways scarring once spotless green knolls, new roofs popping up in ancient fields, more plate glass windows staring down, more and more No Parking and No Trespassing signs. There are longer guardrails corralling more cars, more guide books and more guided tours, more surfers, more web links and cameras and more interpretive displays.

Yet, there is this little place with a little space and no more. Nibble by nibble, change is mauling the most precious aspects and experience of Gaviota, and, before long, overpopulation is going to finally do it in.

Some of the folks here today embody what it is to be a nature loving, respecting community, and as much as any other group, they steward a sense of place, of being place based, earth bound on a crowded, resource stressed planet, on a crowding coast who need an untrammeled Gaviota as a baseline for sanity, to feel grounded, indigenous and complete—and who, in my estimation, in spite of owning the least, will once again be the ones who lose the most. We respond to Gaviota and our sense of belonging with our art, our activism, our stewardship, our dedication to community, maybe our genetics, and our coming to such hearings. Typically though, just to listen and speak little. We know the more that’s said, the more we lose.

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