ContentsPutah and Cache: Upper Putah Creek

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Boggs Mountain: We Have Met the Great Outdoors and It Is Us

Amy J. Boyer

Saturday morning, Memorial Day weekend, I ate breakfast to the pow-pow-pow of someone emptying a pistol clip, reloading, emptying another, reloading again. I sat among wild iris, native clover and bunch grass, under tall straight sugar pines. The juxtaposition was the epitome of Boggs Mountain.

I knew before I got there that it was only slightly more pristine than a Superfund site. In the 1880s Henry C. Boggs bought several thousand acres of mountaintop south of Clear Lake and just north of Putah Creek's headwaters. He logged hard, and soon the mountain had his name, a few seed trees, some grazing cattle, and little else. Around 1950 the California Department of Forestry made it Boggs Mountain State Demonstration Forest, an experiment in restoration and sustainable forestry.

I drove into the experiment past ceanothus in full blue bloom and well-spaced, plentiful sugar pines. At a tiny kiosk, the boxes for trail maps were empty. So I went exploring, down the potholed gravel road. Rutted red clay roads wound off from it; purple wild iris were everywhere.

Eventually I explored to a wide place where people dumped trash and then did target practice on the bottles. Just past it, under manzanita, I bottomed out the truck on the gullied road. So I turned back, looking for a place to picnic. A quarter mile later I was sitting comfortably on a rock; at my feet was one of the little white flowers I'd seen on every slope: a calochortus lily with a lavender center. A scarred black oak shaded me; probably a survivor of the logging, it had the venerable eccentric quality oaks acquire. In the distance, birds called back and forth, and a breeze sighed through thousands of pines.

At the campground I discovered that two kinds of people visit Boggs Mountain: people with new SUVs and mountain bikes, and people with cars old enough to vote. The area around Boggs Mountain has a resource extraction economy, based in mining and logging; as in many such areas, most of the resources have been extracted and the economy is moving toward tourism, which pays most of its employees minimum wage or a buck or two more.

The mountain bikers and I were ecotourists, and the rest of the campers were probably locals, relying on the lack of camping fees to allow them to enjoy the land on which they live. I had a difficult night among the iris, in my computer-designed tent. I fell asleep easily, only to be awakened around midnight by arrivals with a terrific stereo, a huge campfire, and a lot to talk about.

In the morning, listening to the gunfire, I nearly left to hike the Mt. St. Helena firetrail. But I wanted to get my feet on the trails I'd driven past the day before.

I think we often come to the wild not to forget humanity, who have been here for millenia, but to forget our machines and the changes they wreak on the landscape and on ourselves. It is impossible to do that at Boggs Mountain. Huge stumps are ubiquitous and roads cross the trail every few hundred yards. Empty GU packets and beer bottles are both plentiful. But lizards are also ubiquitous, and numerous butterflies crossed my path; so did three mule deer, newly horned, and one surprised rabbit.

Even the logging leaves some hope. The logged patches I saw were measurable in square yards, not acres, and the young trees standing in all three were wrapped in rabbit protectors. Eating lunch in a patch of oak and ceanothus, watching a junco feed a few yards away, I thought about the stories we tell ourselves about the outdoors. One is that the natural world is ours to exploit, and that story ends in barren mountains and impoverished people. One is that the natural world is different from ourselves, and it's only valuable if it shows no trace of our actions. This one ends in dividing the world into the virgin and the fallen woman. But anywhere we go, there we are. Stumps and pistols and mountain bikes are our mirror; so are the wealthy and the poor. Intertwined with all are the calochortus and the oaks and the iris and the beautiful, vulnerable pines. They are the great outdoors, and so—for better or for worse—are we.

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