The Ocean

A West Marin Walkabout

June 22, 2012
“The environment one experiences between the ages of about 7 and 12 years of age has 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 the park’s 50th anniversary at hand, Jules decided to honor this milestone by trekking every one of of the Seashore’s 154 miles of trails on foot. His resulting weekly blog posts describing this epic walkabout highlight the magical beauty and ever-changing landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula and chronicle his encounters with its native plants and wildlife, from harbor seal pups to black oystercatchers to the occasional bobcat. Jules is the principal of Avocet Research, an environmental monitoring firm, and was 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’t know, maybe it was the weather and the incredible natural diversity of this place.
BN: What first drew you to becoming a naturalist? Was it before or after you came 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 and conifer forest. I remember particularly awakening to the songs of the woodland thrushes. 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 one experiences between the ages of about 7 and 12 years of age has a way of becoming one’s natural habitat. I did go on to study biology in college and have worked 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 an opportune 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. Walking Is 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 complete the trails and reach my goal of $100/mile ($15,400) by the end of the year. If anyone 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’ve encountered 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, almost weekly; this has forced me to go in conditions or at times when I might not have ventured out otherwise. So, I’ve noticed subtle seasonal changes that I might have otherwise overlooked—the early emergence of a crescent butterfly, the first song of a Wilson’s Warbler, late blooming pussy ears.The walking, often alone, has allowed me to contemplate the wild nature of the peninsula, which is remarkable given its proximity to the urban hubbub of the Bay Area. Naturalist/poet Gary Snyder says “Wilderness is a place where the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and nonliving beings flourishing according to their own sorts of order.” This is what I notice and appreciate on these walks—the sense of order, the integrity of the natural world going about its business entirely unfettered by human intention. Nature’s rhythms will survive us, and there is something very consoling in that realization, especially in these times of such rapacious exploitation of Mother Earth. How fortunate we are to have a place nearby where commercialization of the commons is held at bay.
BN: In the upcoming issue celebrating Point Reyes’ 50th anniversary several of the authors, including you, mention how Point Reyes is always changing – it’s different 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 on Inverness 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 is profound, but also puzzling. The trees are so dense that they may need another fire to thin their ranks. When will that happen, and how? What was the prehistoric fire regime here? How often did the first people set fires? How Often does lightning strike? When it does, how will we respond? . . . Of course there are other broad-scale changes—vacillating sea surface temperatures and the response of sea life, especially marine birds, changing rainfall patterns that seem 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 (late soring/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 dawn chorus is still fairly strong, so any riparian corridor or deeply forested canyon is alive with birdsong. I guess those places where there is water available (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 of Point 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 this place, and can’t help but wonder if it would be possible today, when exploitation of natural resources, often under the guise of “sustainability,” isso prevalent.
>>Jules Evens is a featured writer for “Crowning Glories”, Bay Nature’s special insert celebrating Point Reyes’ 50th anniversary, coming up in the July-September issue. Coming to newsstands – and your mailbox – soon!

About the Author

Beth Slatkin is Bay Nature's marketing and outreach director.