When I moved out to San Francisco from New York City in late 1973, it was mostly for love. But not for a person. I had fallen in love, pretty much at first sight, with the Bay Area. There was the quality of the light. There was the thriving youth culture. Housing in the Mission was quite cheap (believe it or not!). And there was Point Reyes.
My first encounter with Point Reyes had come earlier that year, during a visit with friends who had moved to San Francisco. On a warm, clear January day, they drove me out to Limantour, a broad, sandy beach backed by gentle dunes. We had the place mostly to ourselves and spent the whole day watching the waves and the shorebirds and soaking in the winter sun.
After I moved here, Point Reyes became a place I returned to often, to recharge my batteries, renew my spirit, and reward my senses. It was accessible wilderness, so close in miles to the increasingly tense, urban world of the Mission, yet so far away in atmosphere. I came to watch birds; I came to see flowers and fungi and whales; later my wife and I came to scatter the ashes of our miscarried first child. And after the birth of our son, we returned often, at his request, to play in the sand dunes overlooking Abbotts Lagoon.
On October 3, 1995, we heard about the firestorm on Inverness Ridge. When I looked across to Marin from Berkeley (where we had moved) and saw the smoke in the sky to the northwest, I wondered if I would ever again see this treasured place in its former glory. I imagine that thousands of others in the Bay Area felt the same way. And I imagine that it came as something of a revelation to those of us from urban areas (whose main experience of wildfire had been the highly effective Smokey the Bear campaigns), that even though its proximate cause was human, the Vision Fire was actually part of the natural cycle at Point Reyes.
After all, one of the reasons that Point Reyes holds such power for so many of us is that it is large and diverse enough to allow for the unfolding of epic natural processes. This is true of both fire and, more significantly, the slower, more complex process of a landscape renewing itself. The fact that we can observe these dramatic forces at work so close to a major urban area is nothing short of miraculous, a testament to those visionaries who had the tenacity and wisdom to fight for the creation of this wilderness park on our doorstep.
I am thrilled that Bay Nature can share some of this miracle in this issue’s special section on the Vision Fire. I hope it will entice you to return to Point Reyes to see the changes for yourself, and to join us for one of the anniversary activities (see page 25) being planned to mark an event that stopped our hearts and transformed an ecosystem.
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Veteran environmental activist, writer, editor, publisher, educator, and coastal wetlands scientist Phyllis Faber has made countless contributions to the Bay Area environmental movement.