Reflections on nature during our pandemic year

The changing of the seasons inspires a sense of resilience and transformation

A view of a reservoir surrounded by forested mountains and a blue sky, framed by branches of an oak tree, with an owl flying through.
A view of Briones Reservoir, with a barn owl flying through. Photo credit: Sam Hodder

One year into the pandemic and six months after the lightning strikes that sparked wildfires all over the coast redwood and giant sequoia ranges, the nearby trails that I’m fortunate to have in my community continue to be a place of refuge and inspiration for me and the people of the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay region.

On the Oursan trail along the Briones Reservoir last weekend, I was mesmerized by the early wildflowers in bloom, hawks overhead, and egrets gliding above the sparkling blue water against the deepening green of spring in the East Bay hills. As I snapped a photo to capture the beauty, a graceful, silent barn owl emerged from a deep cavity in an old oak tree and swooped past my family, blending immediately into the landscape. It felt like a face-to-face encounter with nature, a personalized tutorial on the changing of the seasons; on how time—and time in nature—allows us and the landscapes we are part of to heal and transform.

Close-up of a barn own in flight between the branches of an oak tree
A close-up of the barn owl flying in between the branches of an old oak tree. Photo credit: Sam Hodder

Venturing further into a deserted and hushed portion of the trail, the wildness of the place and the dominance of the cycles of nature overcame the reality of an impacted landscape. This land was acquired as watershed protection around 1909. The dam was built and the reservoir created in the 1960s, impounding water from the Mokelumne River in the San Joaquin Valley. Despite evidence of human hands on the landscape everywhere, in the heart of the Bay Area with its 7 million residents, we were guests in nature’s place. These oak woodlands, like the fire-resilient and restorative redwood forests that have been so impacted by human activities—from logging to development to fire exclusion—will recover and re-wild, too.

This East Bay valley within Karkin and Muwekma Ohlone ancestral lands has sustained human life for thousands of years. Owls live in the hollow cores of ancient oaks and show themselves only rarely—a reminder that when we make space and time for nature, extraordinary beauty reveals itself to inspire and sustain us. As we start to turn a corner from this challenging pandemic year, may we look to nature and its cycles to invoke our own resilience—and the wisdom that change can be a beautiful thing.

About the author

President and Chief Enthusiast for the Outdoors (CEO) of Save the Redwoods League, Sam brings more than 25 years of experience in overseeing land conservation programs from the remote wilderness to the inner city.

bear reading the blog
Get the latest redwood updates in your inbox

Leave a Reply