Nov 082023
 

Walks and Talks on Sonoma Mountain

In October SMP hosted two walks in the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), the beloved and beleaguered institution in Glen Ellen that’s slated to be sold to a developer whose current plans call for leveling much of what’s beautiful, historic, and unusual on the campus.

The first event, a reprise of SMP’s popular “History, Horticulture, and Future of the SDC” hike, was led by California Naturalist Carolyn Greene and featured an impromptu presentation by photographer Christian Pease, a former SDC employee and a leading member of the Eldridge Cemetery Memorial Committee. At the newly completed cemetery memorial, which overlooks the unmarked graves of nearly 2,000 SDC residents, Pease described the memorial’s components, the forgotten history that prompted its creation, and the political and administrative process that got the project done. The names of everyone buried in the cemetery have been etched in granite slabs on the ADA-accessible viewing platform, which can be reached via a short walk uphill from the campus via Orchard Road.

The second hike, “Fall Birds and Migratory Words on Sonoma Mountain,” was led by author, scientist, and avid bird-watcher Rebecca Lawton, who guided a half-dozen hardy participants through intermittent downpours to secret spots on the campus and along the trail to Fern Lake where the birds — in surprising numbers and variety — were hanging out. Among the species seen or heard were a tree-full of bushtits yelling “head’s up” as a Cooper’s hawk swooped overhead, a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets, more than a dozen dark-eyed juncos and lesser goldfinches, a few northern flickers, a Hutton’s vireo, a hermit thrush … two dozen species and seventy-four birds in all. Lawton also shared poetry with the soggy but happy participants, including a work by our national poet laureate Ada Limón, who was raised in Glen Ellen. You can read Lawton’s SDC-inspired poem, “The Night the County Supervisors Met to Sell the Mountain,” here.

A new slate of guided walks on the SDC and elsewhere on Sonoma Mountain is currently in the works. We’re hopeful these two wonderful guides will be back to lead again, and that they will be joined colleagues who can share their special connections to the mountain with fellow mountain lovers.


~ Tracy Salcedo, SMP vice chair and “sweep”

Participants at the memorial platform at Sonoma Developmental Center.
Participants at the memorial platform at Sonoma Developmental Center.
Nov 082023
 

The Night the County Supervisors Met
to Sell the Mountain

by Rebecca Lawton


I arrive late to a dream where ushers fold arms across their chests at theater doors. A man,
linebacker big, waves a county pass, rushes by the box office, parts the ushers like the Red Sea.

You’re too late, says an office clerk, though he can sell me tickets to A Charlie Brown Christmas.
It’s the one where Charlie finds the last real tree on the lot. He gets back to town with his dying
fir or spruce, only to be mocked by children with black holes for mouths.

Of course Charlie is depressed.

I shake off the dream and the clerk’s hungry eyes. Wide awake, I follow the mountain’s middle
path, empty of hikers and cyclists and dogs, who are all at the real-life meeting. I climb on, as
chickadees buzz in oak branches. Jays scold. Red-tailed hawks scream.

The meeting will go past midnight. Citizens will pour out their hearts, some to keep the mountain
wild, some to sell it and clear forests and fields for a town. Everyone’s dogs will grin with hope.
The supes will handshake folks on both sides of the room, pat poodles and retrievers alike.

Meanwhile I will walk the wooded mountain that saved my life twenty years ago.

Back then, nursing a bruised heart not far from here, I raised my daughter alone. I rose at dawn
to work long days in the woods, gauged the mountain’s creeks and springs, stood knee-deep with staff and stopwatch in chilly flow. Owls called, resting in shadows. Muddy deer trails bore lion prints the size of tea-plates, mixed with hieroglyphic scrawls of turkey and heron.

Ducks flew up from Mexico to winter here. Gulls strayed in from the coast. One hot day, a baby
vulture hid in a stump while raucous woodpeckers relayed along a shaded creek. Wild lilies, shell
fungi, orchids no bigger than dandelions pushed up through leaf litter. I took my girl to see them.

It was all there. It is up there still, though the meeting went the way such meetings go.

My friends say they’ll chain themselves naked to trees and rocks when the backhoes come, when the supes sell the mountain to a high bidder, as they’ll do. Like that clerk, they’ve got to hawk it, get tickets moving for a show we’ve all seen many times, about a boy who longs for nothing more than a full and living tree.

Sonoma Mountain Aerial view at SDC

Becca Lawton
First published in Deep Wild Journal
Winter 2022-2023