Trail Teller

In Anticipation of San Bruno Encounters with the Life Forms
Who Hold the Line against Extinction

In springtime San Bruno Mountain is exuberant with a palette of wildflowers. Stepping off the pavement next to Brisbane houses on the hill, I walked uphill toward the line of towers that extend from the summit toward the industrial park that fills a former marsh at the foot of an ancient shellmound.

I’d come in search of Johnny jump-ups, the sorely troubled bright little violas that provide the habitat for the endangered silverspot butterfly. Trinity Trail is itself “on the line” – emerging like a jaunty feather from the last street of houses on that part of the mountain. Monfresias – not a native, but very beautiful orange-red blossoms on long-leafed stalks – have escaped from gardens in the streets below, and volunteer along the edges of the path. The tiny blossoms of footsteps of spring hug the ground, walking the trail in front of me. A carpet of yellow oxalis is equally vibrant, all the more appreciated on this first really warm day of spring.

A recent political decision has made it possible for builders to continue a project on land which until last year provided a wide expanse of habitat for the viola that supports the butterfly. A domino effect of the disappearance of the habitat leading to the possibility of extinction of the silverspot has been a shock to many, and I wanted to be involved with the remaining plants – really see them closely, and be with something that may well disappear forever.

The panorama I faced when I saw the first of the violas was breathtaking; the hillside is covered with wildflowers of many varieties, – tall wild radish, pink checkerbloom and California poppies – and the violas are nestled among them as if the scene would continue to unfold forever. The sight was just what I wanted – the assurance that they are indeed here at this moment, and what I was seeing is something that my children or grand-children may never have an opportunity to see. How foolish it would have been to let this spring pass without coming to honor their presence, to enjoy what they can bring to humans through their beauty, and to the butterflies when it is their moment to visit.

The presence of wildflowers is so fleeting – unique assortments at many locations around the greenbelt because of terrain, weather,
and human involvement. And here, on this mountain which is the last remaining remnant of the Franciscan ecosystem, is a brief moment in time that will disappear – I hope because of changes the season brings, and not because of further destruction. In the meantime, I want to sit with them, look at them with a magnifying glass to see their intricate beauty and whether there are any insect inhabitants cruising their bright territory. I want to lie in the grass and dream, let my imagination flow into the wisdom they hold, their unique portion of the web of life.

The Chumash people say that human beings have 10 senses, but have lost the use of 5 of them related to imagination. Our civilization is changing, and there is still time in this moment to recognize that gift – to use the inspiration of the flower to encourage that nearly-atrophied capacity to function again.

Find the trail, coming from the winding Brisbane streets onto the mountain. Find a little yellow monkey-faced flower streaked brown. What memories does it evoke? How does it hold the difference that makes it so precious to the silverspot that its life depends on this variety, and only this? Is it something that can be seen, or is it deeper in its being? Enjoy the patchwork of blossoms dotting the emerald grasses, bees cruising from flower to flower, the transitory blend of damp earth and life in bloom. In a few weeks, join us exploring how the butterflies transform; we’re in the market for models, and they have much to teach us.

“Everything is blooming
most recklessly;
if it were voices instead of colors,
there would be an unbelievable shriek-
ing into the heart of the night”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke