Browngirl Going Green

BrownFolks on the Trail
March 7, 2010, 6:08 pm
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POC Hiking Group

One of the POC Hikes of 2009, in Marin

About a year or so ago, I started a Facebook group called, unsexily but accurately, ‘Bay Area People of Color Hiking Group’. My partner, Henry, and I do a fair amount of hiking in the beautiful and numerous public parks in the East Bay, and I wanted to hike with more folks, as well as increase the number of people of color I’d see on the trails. Sadly enough, even for a place as diverse as Oakland, I could usually count the number of people of color I would see on the trails around here on one hand on any given day. I knew that some of my POC friends were a little intimidated by hiking—usually they were interested but hadn’t done much of it and thus it was just an unfamiliar thing—or they didn’t have cars to get out to the hills, or they didn’t have anyone else to hike with. I figured with this group we’d knock all those things out of the picture and make it easy, fun and social at the same time.

Since then, the group—a fairly loose network of about 40 people, only about 15 of whom have actually come on one or more hikes—has stomped out on the trails about once per month, with a winter hiatus starting in November. I’m looking forward to starting up the group again once the rains taper off though.

Hiking is not only a fabulous way to get in touch with nature—I’ve learned how to identify some of the native trees in this area, have seen wild animals such as jackrabbits, and love the scent of the bay laurel leaves that are common in our canyons—but also a good way to get exercise, get to know folks and to reclaim or rediscover the lovely public spaces that are all around us.

I was also happy to find online—and to later discover that many of my African-American Facebook friends were already fans of—the EcoSoul Nature Stroll group, another crew of POC who are making an intentional effort to get out into nature via hiking. I’m hoping to join one of their strolls soon and / or to do a joint hike with the BA POC hiking group. Possibilities abound!

POC Hike - Wind

A windy day on the trail in Las Trampas Regional Park


Two Dead Pelicans
January 30, 2010, 10:26 pm
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We saw the first one not long after we rounded the corner in a trail near the seasonal ponds at Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland. The park consists of protected marsh wetlands inhabited by many overwintering birds, as well as biking and walking trails inhabited by some people, and a lot of ground squirrels. I’ve also seen plenty of wild rabbits hopping around in the protected areas, but the birds are definitely the most visible inhabitants.

That day we’d seen a hawk (I think), a tiny black bird with an amazing red throat that was as vibrant as its high-pitched call, lots of different kinds of ducks, and several pelicans. It was a cold day, but not too cold, and we could hear the airplanes landing nearby at Oakland International Airport. And then we rounded the corner—my husband Henry and I—and saw something in the grass between the paved trail and the San Leandro Creek. We got closer, and saw that it was one of the enormous pelicans, lying in the grass, dead. It looked almost like it had been flattened, as it was stretched on its belly, its wings sprawled on the ground as if someone had stomped on it. We didn’t see any blood or any obvious wounds, and even if it did, what animal would’ve been big enough to kill it? Even a gang of raccoons would have had a hard time taking down the big-billed creature.

“That’s sad,” I said, and Henry agreed. We stood there for a moment out of respect for the dead animal, and then continued our walk. When we neared the next corner in the trail, I saw another dead pelican, this time inside the protected area of the park, which is fenced off to keep people and (I’m guessing) other animals out. Sadly, there are still clumps of garbage inside the parameters of the protected area. And on this gray, cloudy day, another dead pelican. This one wasn’t as big as the first one we’d seen just a few minutes before, but it was also semi-flattened on the ground, its dark gray webbed feet stretched out behind its body like metal rods.

Seeing one dead animal is sad enough, seeing two was just too much. The activist in me had to do something, so I looked in the park brochure for a number to call. I found one, not knowing if it was the appropriate one, and called. Surprisingly, a live person answered the phone (it was a Sunday afternoon, when most public offices are closed), and I told them about the two dead pelicans that we’d just seen. The woman sounded mildly concerned, and told me she would make sure park staff went out to check on the situation.

And then today I happened to read this as I was researching trail closures. It makes me wonder, did the two pelicans die because they were poisoned by ‘urban runoff’—which this document defines as “contaminants, such as litter, food, human & animal waste, automobile fluids, industrial pollutants, fertilizers and pesticides….[that create] health risks for people, killing marine life and contributing to localized flooding and beach closures.” I mean, if people aren’t supposed to go near bay water after a storm, why would it be safe for birds? Or did the birds eat some stray plastic bag that they thought was a shiny fish?

In any case, it was tragic, seeing two birds dead on what was otherwise a pleasant hike. And it was another reminder of how human activity can cause so much death and destruction. But Nature will always rebound—and a book I’ve just started reading, The World Without Us, is about just that. More on this later.

RIP, pelicans.