Autumn Leaves at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Fall leaves at Henry Cowell State Park

“How beautifully leaves grow old.  How full of light and color are their last days.”

– John Burroughs


Under the Redwood Trees

Redwood trees and rays of light at Muir Woods

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than [one] seeks.

These words of John Muir greet us as we begin to explore the Muir Woods National Monument. As we are surrounded by stately redwoods that dwarf us and let just enough light through to illuminate us, those words float away from the sign and into our souls and perform their duty as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Presidio Habitats: Winged Wisdom

I found these words of wisdom between the trees to be the most compelling of all the Presidio Habitats installations. Even though I’d seen many photographs of Winged Wisdom before I visited the exhibition, it still startled me when I rounded a corner and saw giant letters below, shaded by the trees and illuminated by the late afternoon sun. I imagine that it has tickled many unsuspecting passersby in the past year that its been on display.

The structure of the letters of Winged Wisdom are made of steel and mesh. They are filled with straw, an ideal material for robins to build their nests with. The sayings in this installation are based on the “wise” ways of robins: “resolve conflict with song”, “adapt to change” and “nest from the inside out”.

This unique piece of art is wise and organic; whimsical and exuberant. And while it’s inspired by and dedicated to robins, it’s as much of an homage to words as it is to the birds.

Presidio Habitats: Western Screech-Owl Habitats

For almost a year, San Francisco’s Presidio National Park has been running a unique public art exhibition called Presidio Habitats. The artwork is spread throughout the park and each installation is meant to educate visitors about San Francisco’s history, culture, and most of all, its native animals. Some of the species highlighted still exist in the city, while others have long left for more hospitable environments.

Some of the artwork catches your eye immediately and others, like the Western Screech-Owl Habitats, can be easily missed if you’re not looking. I appreciated the awareness the exhibition elicited. In searching for each installation, I found a number of new views of the Presidio I have yet to see, and it’s a park I have explored numerous times.

While Western Screech-Owls are open to nesting in man-made spaces, they no longer live in San Francisco. These porcelain vessels were created with the idea that they might lure the owl back to the city. For humans, the habitats serve to teach about the owl as well as to highlight San Francisco’s Chinese influence.

The vessels were created by Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who was recently arrested for being a vocal critic of his government.

The Ancient Bristlecone Pines

California is home to the most voluminous trees and tallest trees in the world. It is not as well known that it also houses the oldest trees, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pines. The oldest living bristlecone pine is about 4,800 years old.

These ancient trees live high up in arid mountain ranges at elevations of 10,000 to 11,000 feet. It’s an altitude and climate that not many plants can survive in, so they don’t have a lot of competition. They also protect themselves from pests and the elements with their dense compositions. Even after they die — as the tree in the foreground of the picture has — they are so tough that they can remain standing for hundreds of years more.

A drive up to see these trees can test your ability to maintain your composure. It’s quite a climb on a narrow road and the cliffs can be exceptionally intimidating. But if you can manage the drive, it’s worth it. The bristlecone pines are magnificently gnarled and strange, and to be in the presence of the supreme endurance of living things is truly extraordinary.