A West Marin Walkabout

Connecting with Jules Evens, naturalist and author

by on June 22, 2012


View to the Farallones from Point Reyes on an unusually calm, clear day.

photo by Jules Evens


“The environment one experiences between the ages of about 7 and 12 years of agehas a way of becoming one’s natural habitat.”– Jules Evens
Ornithologist, author (The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula, UC Press 2008), and naturalist Jules Evens has lived next to the PointReyes National Seashore for most of his four decades in the Bay Area. With thepark’s 50th anniversary at hand, Jules decided to honor this milestone bytrekking every one of of the Seashore’s 154 miles of trails on foot. Hisresulting weekly blog postsdescribing this epic walkabout highlight themagical beauty and ever-changing landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula andchronicle his encounters with its native plants and wildlife, from harbor sealpups to black oystercatchers to the occasional bobcat.Jules is the principal of Avocet Research, an environmental monitoring firm, andwas the first person to write an article for Bay Nature magazine.

BN: How did you end up living in the Bay Area? 

JE: No, I grew up in New England and moved to California after college. I was onmy way to Mexico and got hung up in the Bay Area for the last 40 years. I don’tknow, maybe it was the weather and the incredible natural diversity of thisplace.
BN: What first drew you to becoming a naturalist? Was it before or after youcame to the Bay Area? Did you have formal training as a naturalist?

JE: I lived on a dairy farm in Vermont during my childhood. There was a troutstream running through the property and the farm was surrounded by hardwood andconifer forest. I remember particularly awakening to the songs of the woodlandthrushes. Neighbors were few and far between, so my stepbrother and I spent alot of time fishing and exploring the woods. I think the environment that oneexperiences between the ages of about 7 and 12 years of age has a way ofbecoming one’s natural habitat. I did go on to study biology in college and haveworked in the field ever since, so yes, I guess you’d consider that “formal”training, but most of it was really “wild” training.
BN: You’re currently on track to hike – and blog about – all 154 miles of PointReyes. What spurred you to undertake this journey? 

JE: 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Point ReyesNational Seashore and its inclusion in the National Park system, one of”America’s Best Ideas,” an idea with which I fully agree. It seemed to me anopportune year to walk all the trails, reacquaint myself with some that I hadnot been on in decades, and at the same time raise funds for the Point ReyesNational Seashore Association (“PRNSA”) which supports trail maintenance,natural history education, scientific research and resource protection. Walkingis one of my avocations and it’s nice to have some structure and a goal, to getme out there. We’re about half way through the year and I’m on track to completethe trails and reach my goal of $100/mile ($15,400) by the end of the year. Ifanyone feels inspired to sponsor the “walkabout,” there is a link on the BayNature website.
BN: What has been one of the most interesting or surprising things you’veencountered during your treks? Have you come to any epiphanies about Point Reyesthrough this process? 

JE: To complete all the hikes I need to go out on a regular basis, almostweekly; this has forced me to go in conditions or at times when I might not haveventured out otherwise. So, I’ve noticed subtle seasonal changes that I mighthave otherwise overlooked—the early emergence of a crescent butterfly, the firstsong of a Wilson’s Warbler, late blooming pussy ears.The walking, often alone, has allowed me to contemplate the wild nature of thepeninsula, which is remarkable given its proximity to the urban hubbub of theBay Area. Naturalist/poet Gary Snyder says “Wilderness is a place where the wildpotential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and nonliving beingsflourishing according to their own sorts of order.” This is what I notice andappreciate on these walks—the sense of order, the integrity of the natural worldgoing about its business entirely unfettered by human intention. Nature’srhythms will survive us, and there is something very consoling in thatrealization, especially in these times of such rapacious exploitation of MotherEarth. How fortunate we are to have a place nearby where commercialization ofthe commons is held at bay.
BN: In the upcoming issue celebrating Point Reyes’ 50th anniversary several ofthe authors, including you, mention how Point Reyes is always changing – it’sdifferent every time you visit. Could you give an example of this? 

JE: The most vivid example that comes to mind is the bishop pine forest onInverness Ridge and its dramatic response to the Mount Vision fire of 1995. Theforest is so dense now, just 17 years after the fire. The regeneration isprofound, but also puzzling. The trees are so dense that they may need anotherfire to thin their ranks. When will that happen, and how? What was theprehistoric fire regime here? How often did the first people set fires? Howoften does lightning strike? When it does, how will we respond? . . . Of coursethere are other broad-scale changes—vacillating sea surface temperatures and theresponse of sea life, especially marine birds, changing rainfall patterns thatseem to be accelerating over the last decade or so . . . I could go on.

BN: What’s your favorite place to go at Point Reyes this time of year (latespring/early summer)? 

JE: There are so many choices . . . Birds are fledging and seals are pupping,butterflies and odonts (dragonflies and damselflies) are on the wing. The dawnchorus is still fairly strong, so any riparian corridor or deeply forestedcanyon is alive with birdsong. I guess those places where there is wateravailable (wetlands) and where there is some shelter from the spring winds,which can be ferocious this time of year.
BN: Where’s your favorite place to go in nature in the Bay Area, OUTSIDE ofPoint Reyes? 

JE: The public lands surrounding Point Reyes: GGNRA lands along Bolinas Ridge,Tomales Bay State Park and it’s sheltered beaches, Mount Tamalpais, SamuelTaylor. We are incredibly fortunate to have so much open space surrounding us.Every day I’m amazed at the foresight of those folks who helped protect thisplace, and can’t help but wonder if it would be possible today, whenexploitation of natural resources, often under the guise of “sustainability,” isso prevalent.
>>Jules Evens is a featured writer for “Crowning Glories”, Bay Nature’s specialinsert celebrating Point Reyes’ 50th anniversary, coming up in the July-September issue. Coming to newsstands – and your mailbox – soon!

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