Published in the November 1-14, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

One of my favorite publications is a quarterly journal called Bay Nature. The current issue has a special section on Mt. Tamalpais and an excellent article about western sycamores and alluvial woodlands. It seems that each issue of Bay Nature has something in it that directly connects to our home turf in southern Santa Clara County.

In the Mount Tam piece was a reference to Alice Eastwood, a self-trained botanist who worked for the California Academy of Sciences and focused much of her research on the slopes and ridgelines of Marin County beginning in 1891. I recognized Alice Eastwood’s name because it was during the early 1900s that a young woman from Gilroy, by the name of Enid Reeve, served as an apprentice botanist under the tutelage of Alice Eastwood. Enid was also an active member of the California Botanical Club of which Alice was the chair.

Enid Reeve was born in Gilroy in 1883 and her extended family were pioneers in area, first arriving in the Gilroy Township in 1854. Her father and uncles owned several properties around Gilroy including 300 acres about a mile south of downtown along Monterey Road. The Reeves were primarily in the dairy business, but later became orchardists with one member of the family marrying Mary Jane Fine and owning a couple of parcels where my home is located in Gilroy today.

Enid and her parents eventually moved to southern California where she attended the State Normal School in Los Angeles (later UCLA) and became a third-grade school teacher. She was always an avid naturalist and a frequent participant in the outings of the Sierra Club. It was during an outing that she met Charles Michael, the Assistant Postmaster of Yosemite. They married in 1919 and lived in Yosemite Valley during the tourist season. The story of Enid Reeve Michael deserves a multi-page article. She was remarkable. Her accomplishments included being the first female ranger-naturalist in Yosemite, the authorship of 571 natural history articles including nearly 200 in the Yosemite Nature Notes, the first ascents with her husband of several Yosemite peaks, the development of a botanical garden behind the Yosemite Museum, and a career at Yosemite that lasted until 1961. Our hometown girl lived her dream.

Southern Santa Clara County enjoys several locations of sycamore alluvial woodlands including riparian segments along Llagas Creek, Coyote Creek below Anderson Dam and Pacheco Creek near Casa de Fruta. This habitat is considered rare in California today as only about 2,000 acres remain, according to the author, Sylvia V. Lindsteadt, of “Western Sycamores Speak of an Older California” in Bay Nature. One fascinating characteristic of western sycamores is that their thin bark is usually cool to the touch. The blotchy colored bark of whites and grays is always peeling off like a madrone tree because the water flow is just below the surface of the bark. The author also suggests that the constant exfoliating may be a way for the tree to shed insect or fungal pests. Sycamores can live to be quite old, oftentimes to 300 years, but their habitat keeps shrinking as riparian corridors are narrowed or channelized for flood control or land conversion.

The upcoming hike on the Friday after Thanksgiving is special for two reasons.

First, our destination will be to a bench on the side of Mummy Mountain, dedicated to Margaret Johnston by her children. The bench overlooks the ranch where she grew up in San Martin. When Margaret was eight months old, her folks brought the family to their new 20 acre farm in 1927. I spoke with Margaret just last month when she climbed the hillside with her kids to sit once again at her bench and survey the valley below. She was visiting from her new home in Michigan but her heart and presence will always be in South County.  Margaret is truly an amazing person. I remember hiking up the trail with her last year — she had her hiking poles and off we went.
The second reason for the Thanksgiving walk is to support a very interesting idea. Instead of shopping on Black Friday, why not go for a family outing somewhere? The idea became a part of REI’s corporate philosophy two years ago under the banner of “Opt Outside.” REI closed all of its retail, warehouse and administrative facilities and gave their staff a paid day off to be with their families and to be outside. An initiative so simple and basic that it should become a national tradition. As Henry David Thoreau suggested — “surely joy must be the condition of life.”

Keep on sauntering!

Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe

Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a Morgan Hill business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks. He wrote this for Gilroy Life.
Mike Monroe