Our City Forest is proud to present the newest addition to our parcel at Martial Cottle Farm Park, a California Native Garden. This garden showcases seven of California’s most common ecosystems by grouping native shrubs together based on their typical habitat. The goal of this garden is to educate visitors about native plants/ecosystems, and provide them with inspiration for using natives in their own landscape!
Our City Forest’s Community Nursery and Training Center is situated on two acres near Mineta San Jose International Airport. It is home to some 2,350 young trees and 6,300 shrubs, nearly all of which were cultivated on site. The trees alone fill 38 rows spread across two large sections or ‘banks.’ In addition to its stock of plants, the Nursery keeps on hand sufficient planting materials and equipment to conduct regular community plantings of dozens of trees at a time. The Nursery also serves as a training site for AmeriCorps service members, Tree Amigos, tree stewards, and other community volunteers.
Our City Forest (OCF) has not always had a cultivation nursery to support its mission of greening Silicon Valley and engaging volunteers. The land that the Nursery leases today on Spring Street was made available by the City of San Jose in 2010, many years after CEO Rhonda Berry founded the nonprofit in 1994. A look at Our City Forest’s operation before it acquired the Nursery underscores just how valuable it is to OCF today. The Nursery enables OCF to control the supply, quality, and species of the trees and shrubs it wishes to plant, all while expanding its community of volunteers.
Back in the day, OCF had to rely on wholesale nurseries in Sunol and the Central Valley for its trees. The wholesalers trucked the trees to an OCF “tree bank,” a storage yard for trees and supplies. They were located at a succession of sites in San Jose, first in Japantown then Watson and Kelly Parks. To get trees from the tree banks to the planting sites, OCF had to improvise. Rhonda estimates that OCF did not own trucks for the first 25,000 trees it planted. Instead, volunteers brought their own trucks to move trees, which resulted in headaches if their vehicles were dinged in the process. Volunteers also brought shovels and other necessary tools.
While the early plantings sometimes took unpredictable turns that had OCF flying by the seat of its pants, longtime Tree Amigo and Nursery Docent Judi Wilson remembers them fondly: “We had fun.”
The use of wholesalers and tree banks worked well enough that OCF was able to plant some 2,000 trees per year. However, the quality of trees received from the wholesalers was uneven and in many cases, some were unusable. As Staff Arborist Bo Firestone, who joined OCF in 2007, put it, “We would have trees delivered from a wholesale nursery perhaps the day before a project, and we might have to send half of them back. We then would be scrambling for last minute substitutions. Sometimes we wouldn’t even be able to plant all of the trees for a project because we had to reject some of them.”
The reasons for rejection varied. Trees arrived that were too small or too large for planting. Some were root bound or the roots were not developed sufficiently for planting. Some came with wounds or other damage, or structurally they were unsuitable. For example, some trees arrived topped, others lacked a strong central leader, and still others had been pruned into ‘lollipops’ - a popular conception of how mature trees should look that when imposed on young trees limits their access to photosynthates, the very thing that drives their growth.
Tree banks added another dimension of unpredictability. The availability of these sites was neither guaranteed nor always the best place to keep trees. For example, while using Watson Park to store trees, winter rains caused nearby Coyote Creek to flood. Christian Bonner, head arborist at the time, had the disquieting experience of watching the flood waters carry 6,000 donated tree seedlings downstream. Later, in 2005, OCF was forced to vacate the park when lead and other toxins from an old municipal dump were found in its topsoil, a discovery that closed the park for almost six years while it was cleaned. A 10 month delay in receiving approval for a new site from the City of San Jose limited OCF’s ability to plant trees. Volunteers were not allowed in the tree bank, and OCF, without AmeriCorps members in its early years, had only its staff available for plantings.
After the closure of Watson Park, OCF moved its tree bank to Kelly Park, a site that was large enough to accommodate both a shade house (built by Tree Amigos) and a limited amount of cultivation along with the usual stores of trees and equipment. As much as OCF members appreciated the charm of the park and the opportunity to grow plants, it would be OCF’s final tree bank. Bigger opportunities were in store for OCF, namely the chance to finally plant trees on privately owned, residential properties--a development that hitherto had been denied OCF and one with vast, untapped possibilities. It made a cultivating nursery, i.e., a place to grow the trees needed for residential planting, a necessity.
For the first 15 years of its existence, Our City Forest relied on grants that stipulated OCF could plant only on public lands, such as parks and schools, or along streets. However, in 2007, the City of San Jose passed its Green Vision initiative that among other actions called for planting 100,000 trees by 2022, including on private property.
Rhonda Berry approached the City about its expansion of urban forestry goals, knowing the largest untapped planting area was within private yards. OCF and the City reaffirmed their partnership in greening San Jose through jointly leveraged resources, knowing that more varieties of trees were needed--and not to mention simply more trees! From this confluence of events and political support came the beginnings of Our City Forest’s Community Nursery, but much more funding and support would be required, and from outside San Jose.
The Amazing Resilience of Weeds: A Review of Richard Mabey’s "Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants"
In his book Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants, English nature writer Richard Mabey states that plants that “obstruct our plans, or our tidy maps of the world” are weeds. The difference between weeds and what might be termed respectable plants is not so much botanical in nature but the result of human judgments on their respective value. Weeds grow where they are unwanted and crowd out the plants we deem valuable, such as crops and ornamental flowers, or they mar meticulously planned gardens. Mr. Mabey thus calls weeds “trespassers,” “vegetable guerillas,” “outlaws,” and botanical “fifth columnists.”
Weeds suffer in our estimation not only from their annoying invasiveness but also from the dismal places in which they live, namely among urban blight, environmental devastation, and trash dumps. In doing so weeds acquire the disrepute that more properly belongs to the slovenly people who debase the properties where they reside, what Mabey terms “guilt by association.” For example, In hardboiled detective stories, where cases often lead to badly maintained houses in sketchy neighborhoods, weeds abound alongside torn window screens, peeling paint, yellowed newspapers, litter, and rings of motor oil on the cracked driveways. Weeds are synonymous with neglect.
However, they hardly are botanical bums. They are relentless opportunists that adapt and thrive where other plants cannot. They earn Mabey’s admiration for their persistence in adapting to whatever environment they find themselves in and the clever ways they go about doing so. “They are unfussy about where they live, adapt quickly to environmental stress, use multiple strategies for getting their own way. It’s curious that it took so long for us to realize that the species they most resemble is us.”
It has long been said that the only survivors of nuclear war will be cockroaches and Keith Richards. I put my money on weeds.
This is not to say that Mr. Mabey is entirely sold on the weed community by virtue of its ubiquity and determination to survive. For one thing, he notes the ugliness of many of its members. More serious is the rampant growth of superweeds such as kudzu, that are glyphosate-resistant, i.e., Roundup-tolerant. Superweeds spread from continent to continent and are frightening in not only their destructiveness and refusal to be controlled, but in some cases, their grotesque size. Horseweed grows to six feet high, and the Palmer amaranth reaches eight feet while developing a stem so tough it can damage farm machinery. Sound like a monster movie? In a desperate effort to halt the invasion of superweeds, newer herbicides have been developed, some of which even use components of the notorious Agent Orange.
Our City Forest uses nontoxic measures to control weeds. Over the years Volunteers and AmeriCorps members have been a great help in hand weeding OCF’s Community Nursery and Martial Cottle acreage. In addition, weed cloths and mulch-covered cardboard are used at both sites. A recent blog related how OCF’s Lawn Busters effectively use cardboard and mulch in converting weed-ridden lawns to drought-resistant, weed-free xeriscapes.
So how did weeds acquire their tenacity? Why do they survive in places that are alien to the rest of the botanical world? One reason, according to Mabey, is they originated in places of continual disturbance where adapting to such conditions was necessary for survival. Weeds, he writes, “evolved on tide-pounded beaches and the precarious slopes of volcanoes, in the flood zones at the edges of rivers and the muddy wallows made by wild grazing animals, in scree and shingle and glacial moraines.” No wonder weeds are tough cookies. Plants that live in such turbulent and unstable conditions must develop special characteristics to survive.
As a consequence of their background, many weeds germinate quickly and have expedited life cycles. They jump at brief windows of life while spreading prodigious numbers of seeds. Some seeds have barbs that catch on to passing animals and spread wherever the animal travels. Other seeds lie dormant for remarkably long periods of time and eventually germinate when conditions are right. For example, species not seen for decades sprouted in the rubble created by German bombing of London in World War II. Even more remarkable are recent archaeological digs in the UK at ancient Roman sites that prompt dormant seeds to sprout that are up to 2,000 years old! If a seed company marketed packets of weed seeds (an unthinkable idea), how would the “use by dates” read? Best if used by December, 2077? July, 4017?
Lastly, through natural selection over countless growing seasons, some weeds mimic the appearance of neighboring crops to ensure that their seeds are harvested along with the host crops. In Southeast Asia, weed grasses have become indistinguishable from rice. In the case of wheat, Mabey writes that “cutting it every autumn with a sickle perpetuated weeds whose seeds were produced at the same height as the wheat ear. Sieving grains favored weed seeds most similar in size to the crop’s.”
This charming and informative--and occasionally frightening--book goes beyond weeds’ ability to propagate and endure. For instance, Mr. Mabey, in what he calls the “human story of weeds,” considers man’s long and troubled relationship with weeds. Some species possess, or were once believed to possess, special medicinal properties. Hence they go in and out of fashion. Use of herbicides actually end up benefiting weeds by increasing their tolerance to them. Spraying tons of Agent Orange on rainforests in Viet Nam killed the trees but allowed a tough grass called cogon to flourish in their place. Once checked by the forest’s shady canopy, cogon now thrives in Viet Nam’s defoliated landscapes..
In spite of their astonishing resilience and contributions to the health of the planet, such as retaining topsoil (see Mark Schonberg’s article, “An Ecological Understanding of Weeds” for other benefits provided by weeds), weeds remain a tough sell. Think mosquitoes and viruses. The fact that something is adaptable and tenacious does not make it endearing. Flowers and shrubs, on the other hand, may be wimpy in comparison to weeds, but they are far easier to love.
For Further Reading:
Mark Schonberg, “An Ecological Understanding of Weeds,” http://articles.extension.org/pages/18529/an-ecological-understanding-of-weeds
To maintain its continuity, a municipal forest should have trees of all ages with a preponderance of them young. Annual plantings ensure that younger trees are in place to replace aging ones, and the benefits of the forest, whether shade, clean air, blossoms, fruit, autumn color, or psychological balm may be enjoyed by city dwellers without interruption. Imagine the reverse: if all trees were the same age, a significant portion of the canopy would be lost by old age alone. Only volunteers would be left to carry on.
Let’s face it - nobody likes weeds, and there are plenty of pernicious and unrelenting varieties out there. Accordingly, there are as many weed control techniques as there are weeds. Choosing the right option for your lawn can be a daunting task, but there are a few guidelines you can follow. A general rule of thumb is to steer clear of weed-killing chemicals. Glyphosphate, which is found in many popular chemical herbicides, has been scientifically proven to harm human cells, and should probably stay away from your lawn. This is especially important if you plan on using trimmings or grass clippings in your compost pile! Additionally, there are some herbicides that promote the growth of new, resistant, strains of weeds. If you do feel the need to use an herbicide, there are plenty of organic herbicidal options that are better for your lawn, with varying degrees of success.
This leaves you with a few options, but most notable are landscape fabric and sheet mulching with cardboard. At Our City Forest, we definitely suggest using sheet mulching instead of landscape fabric, for a variety of reasons. First, and most importantly, landscape fabric will not stop weeds from growing in your yard. Those pesky perennial weeds will find a way to grow through or around the cloth. The fabric also decreases the amount of water that your yard can absorb when it rains, which creates more runoff, and a drier yard. Not ideal for growing things! Finally, some plants like to spread out once they get established. The landscape fabric restricts the amount of viable ground those plants have to work with, ultimately resulting in the plants being stunted or strangled.
A lawn conversion to a drought-tolerant garden, using sheet mulching as its base, is a great way to save water and eliminate most of the weeds in your yard.
At Our City Forest, we have a program called “Lawn Busters” which offers low-cost turf conversions to qualifying residents of San José. For all of our Lawn Buster projects, we use sheet mulching - a process that uses cardboard as a base layer to smother the grass along with layers of compost and wood chips.
It has a variety of long and short-term benefits. Its main purpose is to suppress weed growth without the use of chemicals, just like landscape fabric. What makes cardboard so useful, is what it can give back to your yard! The weeds under the cardboard are eventually composted, as is the cardboard itself, which helps your dirt become healthier and more nutrient-rich. It improves water retention in your soil and encourages worms to hang out there. Plus, you are using materials that would otherwise be thrown away (or hopefully recycled), which is so much better for the Earth! It is important to note that it is still possible for some weeds to grow with this method. There can be seeds in the mulch that you use, and some grasses are incredibly persistent. The best way to deal with these few issues is to pull weeds as soon as possible, so they don’t get established in your yard.
Our process is simple enough, if not a little labor intensive, for you to grab a few friends and do it yourself. If you don’t qualify for our low-cost Lawn Busters program, we have some upcoming workshops to demonstrate the best practices when converting your lawn.
FREE DIY Lawn Conversion Workshop:
May 6, 2017, during the Martial Cottle Park Spring Festival at 11AM and 1PM in our new site. See our website for more information.
You can also watch the mini tutorials on the entire Lawn Busting process on the Our City Forest YouTube channel:
Need plants for your yard? Visit Our City Forest’s Community Nursery Thursday-Saturday, 9am-12pm, for a wide selection of shrubs, grasses, trees, and succulents. There will be a Spring Plant Sale Extravaganza on Saturday, April 29 from 9AM - 3PM. Learn more about it on our website or join the FaceBook event.
We couldn't Plant it Forward without our volunteers!
The docents at Our City Forest’s Community Nursery--Carol Arnoldy, Sharon Schuetze, Sarah Viaggi, and Judi Wilson--are volunteers who help customers during the nursery’s open hours, which are 9:00 am to 12:00 pm Thursday through Saturday. In addition to showing visitors the trees and shrubs they wish to plant, and discussing which species are best for their needs--an important task considering that the nursery covers two acres and has an inventory of some 10,000 trees and other plants--the docents assist with ongoing nursery work, namely pruning, propagation, weeding, watering, and updating inventory records.
As nursery manager Nara Baker puts it, “It’s cool to have people at OCF who have been there for so many years and know its programs and practices as well as the docents do. They are always willing to help, and are a great example for OCF’s younger members.”
Why the docents continue to volunteer year after year comes down to two shared desires: they are dedicated to OCF’s mission of greening San Jose, and they enjoy being at the nursery. As Carol says, “I love gardening, being outdoors, learning about how things grow, and being with like minded people.” What more could one want in a volunteer position?
Sarah, who formerly worked as a registered dietitian and is a sailing enthusiast, clearly is in her element. She calls her backyard at her South San Jose home “Big Basin” because it has a stand of six coastal redwoods, two apple trees, an apricot tree, a volunteer hackberry, volunteer pistache, Douglas fir, and wisteria. The most recent addition to her yard is a live oak.
She enjoys working with nursery customers: “I make customers think about what they want. The tree they choose is going to be with them for many years to come, so they better get it right.” She ticks off the attributes a prospective tree owner needs to consider, for starters, adaptability to the desired planting site, function, size when mature, messiness, deciduous vs. evergreen, and attractiveness. Sarah also loves working with the “young folks,” the AmeriCorps members who comprise the nursery team.
Sharon, who became a Tree Amigo five years ago, shares Sarah’s enjoyment of helping visitors. “I enjoy interacting with the nursery patrons and telling them about OCF programs.” She is a gardener, and her enjoyment of the nursery extends to caring for its trees and shrubs. Sharon quips that she likes “digging in dirt,” a pleasure not uncommon among OCF members, especially on the Lawn Busters team. She finds working outside therapeutic: “Being in nature and among trees calms one’s soul.” She is a regular hiker of Bay Area trails, especially in the spring when wild flowers are prevalent in the meadows.
Judi, who completed the Tree Amigo class in 1994 and has volunteered at OCF intermittently ever since, also loves being outside among trees. When I see Judi at the nursery she almost always has a pair of pruners in one hand and cuttings in the other.
Judi recalls the early days of OCF when volunteers were urged to bring their own shovels to planting and the nursery was situated at small, temporary sites in Japantown, Watson Park, and Kelly Park. She speaks fondly of participating in the planting of 30 Chinese Pistache trees in 1995 at Guadalupe Park to create the AIDS Memorial Grove. “Metal tags honoring AIDS victims were hung on the branches. Basketball players from Santa Clara University used their height to put the tags high in the trees.”
As one would expect, each of the women is a strong advocate of OCF’s mission. Carol, who began volunteering at OCF in 2001 is a Tree Amigo herself, and has lived in San Jose since it was called “the Garden City.” She sees OCF as restoring some of the city’s greenness that once was everywhere; the urban forest is “a way to combat the onslaught” of development in Silicon Valley. Judi notes that OCF’s beautification of San Jose is not limited to planting street trees; it extends to parks, businesses, churches, and schools among other venues. She cautions that beauty is only one benefit of urban trees. She points out that OCF educates the public on the many ways in which trees are important: they help clean the air and are a habitat for birds and animals; they provide shade and psychological balm; they increase real property values.
Sarah remembers walking in her neighborhood with her husband several years ago and noting the absence of trees. “This isn’t right;” she said at the time. “We live in a parking lot!” Sarah accordingly launched a successful community tree planting in her neighborhood in fall of 2015.
Sharon, too, has brought OCF to where she lives: Lawn Busters converted her front lawn last fall, and she “now enjoys a drought-tolerant landscape.” In addition, she has two OCF trees planted in her yard - ‘Autumn Fantasy’ red maples.
With their belief in taking action, it’s fair to characterize the docents as activists, although certainly not with the negative connotations the word sometimes carries, such as quarrelsome and doctrinaire. They are gracious, friendly women who volunteer because they know personal initiative makes a big difference.
They know, too, that, passiveness--not doing anything--is the friend of parking lots.
Now it's your turn!
Our City Forest is always looking for more Judi’s, Carol’s, Sharon’s, or Sarah’s - locals who care and can dedicate time each week to helping us grow and reach the community! If you’re interested in becoming a Tree Amigo, start volunteering with OCF. Sign up for a community planting, volunteer at the nursery, help a lawn conversion project, join tree care on a watering route, or help us with some office work. Learn more at ourcityforest.org/volunteer or email email@example.com and let us know what you’re interested in doing.
Work on Our City Forest’s educational site at Martial Cottle County Park is gathering steam. Under the leadership of AmeriCorps member Kevin Nee, and with the help of community volunteers and other members of AmeriCorps, OCF is adding walking paths to the site as well as a demonstration of “lawn busting”-- an OCF service that converts traditional lawns to attractive, water-saving landscapes.
Patrick Pizzo is a man of many accomplishments. Pat created an acclaimed display of California native plants in his neighborhood that stretches for six-tenths of a mile. He continues to care for over 100 native oaks that he and his neighbors planted in 1994 with Our City Forest (OCF). He had a big role in restoring and improving Jeffrey Fontana and TJ Martin parks after Pacific Gas & Electric launched a campaign to cut down 140 trees. Pat is also a longtime Tree Amigo with OCF and a teacher--he is a retired professor of engineering materials at San José State University and presently a volunteer math tutor at Branham High School. If these accomplishments are not enough, Pat once received a Green Thumb Award from the Air Force for planting pumpkins at one of its bases.
Tim Fillpot, my fellow AmeriCorps Service Member and photographer, and I caught up with Pat near his home on Capitancillos Drive in Almaden. When we arrived, he was tending to his Native Plant Walk, a garden of shrubs native to California chaparral that he began planting in 2002 after retiring from SJSU. The garden follows the undeveloped side of Capitancillos across from his house. It is adjacent to a meadow that runs along the Guadalupe River and adds more color to the neighborhood with wild flowers. The garden showcases drought-resistant landscaping and provides gardeners with ideas for their own landscapes. As of March, 2009, the garden has some 110 different species, each neatly labeled.
The garden is placed among a line of 126 native oaks, mostly Quercus agrifolia, i.e.,California Live Oak. The trees were planted in 1994 by Oak Canyon residents in cooperation with Our City Forest, which, at that time, was in its first year of operation. Pat participated in the planting, but that was only the beginning of his involvement with the oaks, which has spanned almost 23 years. Since their planting he has watered the trees, pruned them (by his count six times since 1994 and most recently just a few months ago), painted their lower trunks to prevent bleaching, and planted replacements when some of the original trees didn’t survive. In 2003, his daughter purchased a large wagon at Orchard Supply Hardware for him to transport water more easily to the trees and shrubs. He recalls, “I crammed the wagon with jugs of water and pulled it down the street.” A few years later, Pat and his neighbors began connecting long hoses, which they attached to homeowners’ faucets along the watering route. During the drought in 2014, they stopped watering entirely. “The oaks are drought-resistant natives,” Pat says, “and it was time for them to be on their own.” They are managing their own lives just fine.
Pat is a California native himself. He was born and raised in Willow Glen (on Norval Way to be exact) and attended Willow Glen High School before moving on to San José State and Stanford. His interest in gardening came early. When he was six years old he crawled through the hedge on the border of his family’s home and and asked permission from his neighbor to start a vegetable garden. “My plot was about 12’ X 12’, and I shared what I grew with the people next door.”
Recalling that his father planted trees on land he owned at Alma and Minnesota that served as a “ranch,” Pat says that gardening “must run in my family’s blood.” His father used a planting technique that most would consider unorthodox today: he seated bare-rooted young trees in muddy ground. Pat thinks “the method is probably European in origin, maybe German or Polish.” However unusual it may seem now, the method worked: the trees his father planted in the ground can still be seen today.
Later, when Pat was an Air Force officer at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento County, his father gave him a generous supply of pumpkin seeds. The military seems like an unlikely place for a gardener to indulge his or her passion, much less win an award for it, but Pat was an exception. He planted the seeds everywhere on the base: outside the chapel and PX, by the commanding general’s quarters, and along the runways. They grew famously, and the Air Force gave Pat a Green Thumb Award.
In 2010 PG&E began cutting down trees earmarked for removal at Jeffrey Fontana and TJ Martin parks. High voltage power lines run the 1.2 mile length of the parks, and PG&E had tired of pruning trees that eventually would grow into them. Residents in the area were outraged at the loss and responded by forming the Martin-Fontana Association for which Pat chaired the important Restoration and Improvement Committee. The upshot of the Association’s work was that it saved some of the threatened trees and partnered with Our City Forest in a succession of plantings to replace ones that had been lost. Dozens of native shrubs were planted as well, and PG&E even raised the height of its power lines to accommodate the new trees.
No doubt there are other instances in which Pat was an energetic advocate for the urban forest and open space (one is his opposition in 2008 to the commercial development of the San José Fairground site, which he feared would result in “an economically-challenged Santana Row”). An infomercial host, in presenting the highlights of Pat’s work in the community, inevitably would say, “But wait! There’s more!”
And there is: Pat, as noted earlier, is a volunteer tutor at Branham High School. He also is the steward of 27 trees, half of which are Quercus douglasii (Blue oak), that Our City Forest helped plant in January 2016 along the fence by Branham High’s football field. Until the rains began last month, an OCF truck hauling the 500 gallon “Buffalo” came to BHS every other Friday. Pat and a group of eight or ten students would meet the truck and draw water into five gallon buckets from the Buffalo. Each young tree then received its biweekly ration of three buckets.
I remarked to Pat how impressed I was with the students; they carry out their watering duties efficiently and earnestly. He replied, “Yes! They make me feel good about our future.”
Photography by Timothy Fillpot
Once a town in its own right and a steamship port that served San José when it was the capital of California, Alviso is now a community in San Jose of about 2,000 people. Alviso is overlooked by residents of the South Bay because of its location -- a pocket nestled against the southern end of San Francisco Bay without a major arterial passing through it. Another reason it may go unnoticed is that Alviso has avoided the development that is endemic to neighboring cities. That is to say, restaurants, hotels, condos, and tech companies sprout up around Alviso rather than in it.
However, if people took the time to turn off CA-237, and drive towards the Bay on either Gold Street or North First, they would find a historical community that is a pleasant change from the wholesale impatience that increasingly characterizes Silicon Valley. Alviso is dotted with historical markers that identify its old buildings, such as the Bayside Cannery (‘the third largest cannery in the United States by 1931”), the Union Warehouse and Docks, and the South Bay Yacht Club, which dates back to 1888. Lifelong resident José Ruiz puts it this way: “Alviso is calm and tranquil, yet lively.” He talks of the immediacy of nature in Alviso; the marshlands by the town are a major stop on the Pacific Flyway that brings large numbers of birds, and residents go to bed at night soothed by winds blowing off the Bay. Days in Alviso can have a festive vibe--José says he often hears banda and cumbia music.
Alviso also is an important ecological junction. The South Bay’s two largest rivers, the Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek, both flow into the Bay at Alviso. The Guadalupe River drains Almaden County Park and the Sierra Azul in the vicinity of Mt. Umunhum; Coyote Creek, which flows through the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern edge of Alviso, drains the foothills of the Diablo Range enroute to the Bay. Residents have endured flooding from both rivers to devastating effect: Alviso ls on a floodplain that is 12 feet below sea level. Yet, it is the tidal marshland and bay that are more characteristic of the town than its rivers.
Diane R. Conradson, Ph.D. in Exploring our Baylands writes of the marshlands’ open space that borders Silicon Valley, but that it is not fully appreciated by its residents, “The salt marshes are a low and monotonous wasteland to many people. But nowhere else in the Bay Area is one able to see and feel so much space and solitude as in the vast stretches of marshlands.” This is especially true of Alviso, which is on the edge of immense space that is inhabited only by birds and native small animals. José points out that this vastness and the community’s distance from urban development, means less light pollution for Alviso than in neighboring cities and a darker sky with more visible stars. Noise pollution is minimal, too. The one exception is the Union Pacific Railroad whose tracks bisect the community on a levee facing the Bay.
Unfortunately, when land is viewed as a wasteland it is treated as such, particularly when it is a convenient backyard inhabited by no one. The east side of the Peninsula, from the South Bay to the Brisbane lagoon, long has been home to a string of municipal garbage dumps. Remediation is ongoing. At the same time Cargill, the privately held agricultural behemoth, created evaporation ponds for the harvest of salt by erecting dikes in the Bay. For years Cargill's processing plant in Newark has maintained a white mountain of salt that is visible to hikers on Bay trails across the water and commuters on the Dumbarton Bridge.
The nadir of San Francisco Bay in terms of pollution, garbage, and eradication of tidal wetlands for commercial development, happened in the 1960’s. Since that time, the Bay’s water quality has improved greatly, old-style landfills have closed, and wetlands are being protected. Most importantly, what once was considered a wasteland is now valued. A case in point is the public purchase in 2003 of most of Cargill’s property along the Bay. Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the deal secured 25 square-miles of wetland habitat for restoration.
Which brings us back to Alviso. Alviso is one of three areas that is being restored under the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project (the other two are Ravenswood in Menlo Park and Eden Landing in Hayward). The largest area is Alviso. To date, 2,600 acres of salt ponds outside of Alviso have been connected to create tidal marshland along with the establishment of 240 acres of shallow pond habitat and 12 nesting islands. More is to come, including additional flood protection for Mountain View and Alviso. The restoration of marshland itself affords some protection from flooding caused by storms and higher, climate change-induced Bay waters; the marsh acts like a sponge and absorbs water.
Diane Conradson’s comment on people dismissing a place because it isn’t sufficiently showy or entertaining is pertinent to Alviso. It has history, quiet, stars, wildlife, and an immense landscape adjacent to it. Even so, José, the lifelong resident of Alviso, says that “Alviso is more than just a nature area or a place to get away from city life. It is a home and peaceful community.”
Photography by Timothy Fillpot
The essential idea in the book is that the forest is a community of trees whose members care for one another rather than compete for water and canopy space. Wohlleben states his case early on: “A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.”