Watching the Mountain

“…My heart is moved by all I cannot save:

so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those

who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,

reconstitute the world.”

Adrienne Rich

San Bruno Mountain is an ecological oasis in South San Francisco. One that is in constant danger of being developed. (photo credit here, along with more gorgeousness.)

So…does this ever happen to you? Let’s say I’m at a big chain store (helloooo Target), or another heavily frequented spot…like an airport. I start looking at all the people…all the clothes they have on, the bags they are carrying, their sunglasses, their shoes. Then I look at all the goods on the shelves, the plastic wrapping and the contents inside. I notice the surrounding objects, all the cars parked in the lot, the garbage can overflowing with one use coffee cups, the dumpster being circled by gulls. Suddenly, what surrounds me multiplies exponentially, as I think of ALL the Targets or ALL the Safeways all over the world. Like an infinity mirror, I recede inside the magnitude as each person buys stuff, uses stuff, disposes of stuff. Stuff already made, stuff in the process of being made, and the resources it takes to make, deliver, and dispose of all that stuff. The people, the trash, the WASTE.

There are 360 degree views from the top. This one looks east, over 101 and the bay.

I used to have a friend who would get panic attacks at the airport. She would look at the hundreds of people coming and going and think of how each person lived somewhere, in a home with furniture. She would imagine all the furniture in the world and become overwhelmed with its impact on our shared ecosystem. More than any landfill could handle, bigger than any recycling facility…each person owning and consuming more. It would lead her right to the edge of the apocalyptic cliff.

This one looks at the type of development that threatens the mountain.

I had a conversation with Jeff about this during our recent, soul sucking drive down Interstate 5 over the holidays. He said, “It is yet to be determined whether or not the human species is one that can be sustained. And I think we’re about to find out, one way or another.”.

All of this has been rattling around inside me for the past month or so, dust kicked up by the consumption frenzy of the holidays. And then, I came across this article last week. Perhaps you read it too? About how a “great silence” is descending over the natural world, while at the same time, the garbage of noise from humanity is increasing? Bernie Kraus, who has spent 40 years recording the voice of nature, reports that areas once teeming with the sound of biodiversity are now silent vacuums of monoculture.

San Bruno is home to three endangered species of butterfly, many of which were snoozing under lupin plants that our Mountain Watch guide pointed out. We called back to each other down the trail, “Lupin, don’t step on it”.

Talk about following trails that lead right to the cliff of doom. At one time in my life (like two years ago, ahem) I would have buckled under the weight of overwhelm and earth grief. These days, the sorrow is still acute, but since I’m not dragging around a shadow of denial, my response is fiery and charged. I take a deep breath and allow for my grief. I deem it a healthy reaction. Then I stare the horror straight in the eye and wonder, “Well then, how do I want to respond?”.

At the top and ready to work.

Areas are losing biodiversity because of development? Then it’s time for environmental restoration. Where to do restoration? Anywhere you love. For Fern and I (and Uncle Shane too!), it’s San Bruno Mountain. I read on some witchy blog recently, that all Druids need a close relationship to a mountain. At one time, I would have named Shasta or Lassen. After this weekend, I am claiming devotion to San Bruno. This is walking the talk of bioregional animism. Think local.

San Bruno Mountain Watch is doing native plantings all through January and into February. This was our little square patch for the morning. Bunch grasses, native fennel, gumplant, lupin…all tucked in with a prayer for each.

The timing was perfect for a Saturday morning. Meet at 10am, done by 12:30, with a (much relished by the three year old) break for snacks.

Snack time.

Speaking of three year olds, mine was a bit grumpy at first, until she found her purpose.

Stacker of pots.





It was such a satisfying experience. Gardening and planting is always good for my soul, and being in the company of other folks who care was a healing balm. As I wrote on my professional blog recently, “Anger often accompanies the sorrow that is felt in the face of our suffering planet, and anger demands action and action provides relief from helplessness.”. I wish I could provide the solution for it all. It’s what my heart desires. But, damnitalltohell, I can’t. So I’m taking it to the mountain, and plan on doing one hands on action at least once each month this year. We will also be volunteering again on the 19th and 26th of January.

As is.

Ha! I SWEAR I didn’t pose for this…I just had my cold hands crammed in my back pocket. But you can consider this mountain couture if you want.

Want to join us?

I’ll even bring you coffee.

Through volunteering with Mountain Watch, I learned to gradually appreciate the local ecology. The more I learned about the mountain, like the Callippe Silverspot butterfly and the California golden violet that call the mountain home, the more I longed to understand and the more I wanted to do to help protect its ecological health. I became familiarized with native plants, learning to recognize the white fluffy seed heads of pearly everlasting so that I could collect them for the nursery. I made connections with dedicated community members whose warmth and kindness is what I believe to be one of the greatest strengths of Mountain Watch. For one of the first times in my life, I worked with people towards a common goal, not because our grades or our livelihoods depended on it, but because we simply cared about the well being of San Bruno Mountain.-Jenny Ta

For more information on San Bruno, as well as to check out their rad website, go to Mountain Watch.

P.S. For a short time I will be linking my professional blog to this one…I’m trying to keep my private life on the down-lo, and away from the google spiders. So if you’re interested, you can check it out and bookmark it for later. xo

Shaners, Me, Fern.


9 thoughts on “Watching the Mountain

  1. Mary!
    So much food for thought between this blog and your other blog, I’m nearly choking. Tim and I watched another food focused movie this weekend. (We do this every so often to remember and inspire ourselves and the timing was good with the new year and all) It was called Vegucation ( and while the information wasn’t new to us it was a healthy dose of horror- if there is such a thing. (The premise is that a vegan woman asks 3 different New Yorkers to become vegan for 6 weeks and educates them about veganism, health, the environment and cruelty to animals. ) It reminded me of the first time I saw Baraka and had my first glimpse of factory farming- the inhumanity of it is…. there are not adequate words to describe how awful and soulless the atrocities we commit are. I’m completely disgusted, so at least I’ve not gone numb. Reading your posts is heartening, I guess because I’m with you action- is the answer, or part of it. But nevertheless I keep asking myself: What is in the human psyche that allows us to, daily, and vigorously promote our own destruction? And why do we create systems of cruelty and death? This is a looooong conversation to have. I guess this is where I’m expressing my struggle with it. Thank you for speaking of this and sharing your action and providing a resource. I need to find more ways that I can act, whilst gestating a wee one at this later stage, that gives the rewards that hands in the earth do.
    PS- you look beautiful in those pics!
    PPS- With regard to action.I saw this and nearly cried. Check it out.

  2. You’ve come a long way baby! I recall reading some very early snippets of this blog and you expressed so much more heartache and mourning and frustration at what humans have done to the Earth, animals, and each other; I would read those posts and feel your despair. This post sounds different, though the enormity of the situation hasn’t altered …and your pain is still very evident, this one has a sense of power to it, and forcefulness, promise. Crusader.
    I love that you and Fern are both wearing your overalls!
    I had a phonecall from my eldest brother the other day, and he was in a panic, like your friend, about the world and the devastation and overconsumption by us. This is a brother who had largely forgotten his love of his natural environment over the years, but began as a mini-enviromentalist writing to our local newspaper when he was 6 pleading with people to be aware of Whale endangerment and overfishing. The phonecall had me celebrating that he understood again! He can make changes!
    Mary my friend, I would love to speak with you again. Let’s do it.
    Miss you too.

  3. Just so you know, I’m also reading your other blog. And I like that I’m one of the people who can talk to you about seal expressions and not be considered nuts.

  4. Love your writings, I enjoy seeing you and Fern’s adventures and so glad you find nature in almost everywhere you are. Aunt Linda

  5. when i was little, my dad, little brother, and i used to go for hikes on san bruno mountain. i have very fond memories of it and its inhabitants (like the poor little blue belly lizards we used to catch so we could pet their bellies–never harmed them physically, but they might have been left in need of lizard analysis afterwards, poor dears).
    i feel like we should come help, will have to check those dates.

    1. just clicked on your professional blog and was faced with photos nearly identical to the ones i took during our trip down south in november. i came back determined to post about that shithole, but couldn’t find the focus and words…haven’t read your post yet, but relieved to see that someone is talking about it …beyond whining about the smell on their way to their hamburger lunch.

  6. go girl!! you are so awesome and inspiring! This is something I feel passionately about as well and we are working, as a family, to find volunteering projects that we all enjoy. I am feeling the mountains and trees, my little lady is of the animals and my son is of the ocean. It’s going to be a busy year!! This is such good and important work. xo mindy sue

  7. you guys are soooo inspiring me! i have already been thinking that this is the year i need to DO, to act upon my impulses to love and cherish our earth…to find projects that heal and bless the land itself and to be out in nature with my baby as much as humanly possible. this is the year to put my hands and heart where my mouth is! and you beautiful radiant souls on the mountain are just the ticket to light my fire. thank you!!!! you are rocking those overalls like nobody’s business.

  8. Oh I do, I do, want to join you! Like Heather, I’m feeling the desire for “DOING,” for action, as well. This sounds perfect and if Nicole is going to do it, I’d love to coordinate. I think the 26th might be better for me, but I’m open. Fern can show Clover the ropes on pot stacking 😉

    Also, yes, let’s plan a trip up here for you guys soon as well.

    I couldn’t agree more with Heather, you are ROCKIN’ them overalls big time! Yay, for habitat restoration chic!

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