Saving Mt. Diablo

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Sierra Shooting Star, or Dodecatheon jeffreyi. Photographed at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Mt. Diablo, California.

For all the nearly 16 years of her life, beginning as a very tiny puppy, our beloved Tibetan Terrier named Bika was in the habit of making frequent visits to an elderly relative in Concord, California. Especially in the first few years of her life, she spent many weeks out of every year there, though in later years her visits were confined to family gatherings and a week or two when her regular human caregivers were away from home. The forty minute drive from our mountainside in San Francisco to Concord will always be associated in my mind with decidedly poignant trips to drop Bika off, or very joyous returns from overseas to pick her up. When we got there, she would often have realized that the car had arrived and be standing behind the screen door out front, wagging her tail and waiting for us to take her home. My powerful memories of those happy reunions flood my mind when I so much as look eastward from our city home to see the Oakland Bay Bridge across which we had to travel to retrieve our alas now departed friend.

Another joy of those trips to Concord was the dramatic view of Mt. Diablo which one beholds after emerging from the long subterranean Caldecott Tunnel between Berkeley and Orinda. Mt. Diablo is a 3,864 ft. peak which arises from the low rolling oak studded hills of Contra Costa County. If you see it in summer, it will be  covered with golden grasses, a splendid contrast to the darker patches which represent denser stands of native trees. One crystal clear winter day I emerged from the tunnel after a recent storm to see much of the mountain glistening white with snow beneath a sky which seemed made of cerulean blue enamel. 

Mt. Diablo is surrounded by the ever-growing East Bay suburbs, and had it not been for the efforts of the Save Mt. Diablo Foundation, which since 1971 has managed to increase preserved open space on and around the mountain from 7,000 to over 110,000 acres in more than 40 parks, most of the lower slopes of Mt. Diablo would long since have been irretrievably converted into dense conglomerations of housing tracts, shopping centers and office space. The co-founders were Arthur Bonwell (1927-2012), a retired engineer and Concord resident for 56 years, and Dr. Mary L. Bowerman (1908-2005), a botanist and student of the flora and vegetation of Mt. Diablo for over 70 years. Her classic ‘The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mount Diablo, California’ (1944) was updated and republished in 2002 by the University of California at Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium. It’s a splendid book. I like to think that Bika would have loved these people. After all, they did more than anyone else to preserve the incredibly splendid mountain which looms so dramatically over her beloved home away from home. 

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Mary Bowerman and Arthur Bonwell

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