by Shanti Edwards
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
— Muriel Rukeyser
Sonoma Land Trust’s preserves are some of the most enchanted places in Sonoma County — lands of extraordinary natural beauty and plentiful resources that have drawn humans to them for millennia. SLT’s conservation successes along the North Coast of Sonoma County and connections between Little Black Mountain, Pole Mountain and the Jenner Headlands have allowed us to reconfigure the landscape and bring the stories of the land back to life. If the universe is made of stories, then the land is made of memories and connections to these places.
For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of land management is the stewarding of the rich cultural history of these lands. When I walk the land in quiet reflection, I realize that many have walked these same pathways over time. I marvel at the thoughtfulness of Bob Thieriot (the donor of Little Black Mountain to SLT in 1979) as he walked the steep slopes of Little Black Mountain to take in the views from the Pole Mountain summit, and know he must have felt the same exhilaration and awe that I feel. Bob is said to have loved Little Black Mountain so much that he gave names to some of the trees around his cabin. A visionary ahead of his time, he donated the property to Sonoma Land Trust and requested that we expand the preserve whenever possible. In 2014, we were able to connect Little Black Mountain with Pole Mountain and the Jenner Headlands, creating a large protected landscape of over 6,300 acres, thanks to the expertise and efforts of our recently retired acquisitions director Amy Chesnut.
The steep, rugged hills and alpine vistas of Little Black Mountain leave their marks on the hearts and lives of everyone who spends time in this special place. The land has shaped those who lived there and they, in turn, have left remnants upon the landscape. The old stone chimney that stands the test of time and the daffodils and asparagus that shoot up in the homestead garden every spring are visible reminders of the families who lived in and loved this place. The ranch roads that connect the old Peterson Ranch on Little Black Mountain with the Baker homestead and the Rule Ranch on the Jenner Headlands are recorded as historic resources dating back to at least 1921. Did the Baker, Petersen and Rule Families gather together so their kids could play, just as my family does now with other families living along the coast?
The past century of human settlement on Little Black Mountain — homesteading, logging, wildfire — represents just a blink in time compared to the rich cultural history and prehistory of Kashia Pomo habitation across this landscape. Our collaboration with local tribes is one of the most important aspects of our land stewardship. The Kashia Pomo aboriginal territory spans the Sonoma Coast from Gualala to Duncan’s Landing just south of the Russian River, and extends inland over several ridges. Surveys and reports from our partners at the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University suggest that this region is highly sensitive and significant — a “cultural landscape.”
If the story of these lands is an evolving dialogue, then our role is to collect these tidbits and recollections and weave them back into the cultural fabric of the landscape. Through our work, the next generation will enjoy a deeper sense of place — so that they may continue protecting the land forever and honoring those who came before them.
Shanti Edwards is Sonoma Land Trust's stewardship project manager.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.