I am very fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay region of northern California. When not traveling, I head out several times a week and hike up into the hilly Marin Headlands, an extensive protected area that few would hesitate to call “nature.” The evergreen shrubs and patchy grasslands afford spectacular coastal vistas and erupt into a kaleidoscope of wildflowers come springtime. The plentiful animal spottings include red-tailed hawks, coyote, alligator lizards, quail, mule deer, rough-skinned newts, gray fox, monarch butterflies, ravens, and even the rare gray whale spout. Occasionally I’m startled by the last-second exit of a slithering garter snake or a bounding rabbit. Bobcats, in contrast, not infrequently sit a few feet off the trail, observing me in that classic disinterested feline manner as I stroll past.
Here, the greatest threats to human life and limb are tics and poison oak, or perhaps a sprained ankle. I’m told that mountain lions still visit the headlands once in a blue moon, but in six years I have yet to glimpse one. (Oh how I would love to see a mountain lion.) Encounters with other humans, although more common than deer sightings, are sufficiently infrequent that I feel I have escaped the anthropocentric world, at least for awhile. In short, my bipedal excursions into the hills come close to epitomizing the idyllic image of a nature outing—a gorgeous setting that replenishes body, mind, and spirit.
Yet, were I to have hiked in this same place 150 years ago—a span of only two human lifetimes—the experience would have been vastly different . . .