Spring in Fort Cronkhite + a Bit of Coast Miwok History

Hello all!

We have had a beautiful start to spring here in the Marin Headlands. I have seen SO MANY amazing plants, animals, rocks, waterways, weather systems, and more in the past few months. Some of the highlights include seeing BABY WEASELS (just chilling in the middle of a trail with their mama!), bobcats, coyotes, black bears IN MUIR WOODS (on a wildlife camera, not in person), hillsides covered in goldfields, a rare flower called Coast Rock Crest, a heck of a lot of new grass species (new to me, that is), Chert rock faces (a sedimentary rock that typically forms underwater), big stubborn fog that won’t go away, ephemeral pools, and much more. I’m so lucky to live in this extraordinary place. (:

Work has been going really well lately! Our planting season runs from November to March, so that is all finished for now. We plant during the rainy season because the plants need to be “watered in” to allow their roots to reach deep into the soil; that’s where a lot of the nutrients live! Since then, our work has focused more on invasive species management — pulling, spraying, mulching, pruning, etc.. I feel a little weird about intentionally killing a living being (especially a sweet little plant who’s only in this part of the world because we humans brought them over), but less so than I did when I first started here. I’ve educated myself more about the specific plants we work with and the restoration methods we perform, and I have considered the way humans have been stewarding this land for thousands of years. Even before European colonizers introduced invasive species to California, Indigenous stewardship included killing prolific plants to prevent the extinction of others, to support both wildlife and humans. It is something I will continue to consciously think about whenever I am asked to harm plants/wildlife; I will continue to educate myself about the plants and ecosystems I work in before trying to change them, I will prioritize educating those I work with (volunteers and student groups mainly) about the species we work with, and I will continue to practice using compassionate language when referring to all beings, even those who are invasive here. Anyway, Jade and I have been taking on a lot more of a leadership role in this internship (leading volunteers in the field, conducting solo field work, etc.) and it has been very rewarding. In fact, just today (5/24/23) we led a group of 8 volunteers including 4 little kids on a volunteer day all by ourselves and it went really well! We have been hosting HUGE volunteer groups lately! I’m talking over 40 people some days, and often to new sites. So far, every volunteer day has gone really well. We are lucky to have a great core of regular, long-term volunteers who support us, and are consistently kind, hardworking newbies. (:

Tennessee Valley volunteer workday (pic creds: Laura Booth)

Pretty flowers I saw in Berkeley, CA after a run

Point Reyes volunteer workday (pic creds: Laura Booth? I think?)

As for my non-work life, I have continued to explore my new home here in the headlands and I have fallen more and more in love with this place every day. I’ve found some new trails to run on that take me past beautiful wildflower blooms, and I’ve been going on walks in the evenings and meeting all sorts of nocturnal critters. Just last week I locked eyes with a big old Great Horned Owl for a solid 3 minutes before he flew away. The whites of his eyes made big shiny crescents and he was silent when he flew. I’ve been visiting my family in the East Bay most weekends, which is delightful. My mommy has been pouring so much love and energy into her garden lately and it has been really paying off! Her rose bushes and poppies are popping off! My brother, Daniel, and his partner Hillary are very much in <3 love <3 and it has been so lovely to see how happy they are together. My brother, Ben, has been so social and adventurous during his free time lately which I really admire. Also, my best friend Barbara returned from a 9-month trip around Central and South America a couple of months ago, and I have been so happy to get to spend time with her. Oh oh and my dogs! I can’t forget about them. Ms. Bixby is as sassy and elegant as ever and has almost gathered all the sticks. Dashy-baby is derpy and loving and continues to wake me up with lots of cuddles and smooches whenever I sleep at my parents’ house (that’s where she lives) (a large part of why I visit as much as I do), Manic Martha is CRAZY, and Shnoozie is stupid and fat (and perfect!!). Okay last thing: I am very excited for summer! I have some fun little weekend camping trips planned, I’m going to one of my BFFs birthday parties in Santa Cruz, my cousins are visiting from Australia, I’m pet-sitting a very good dog, and I might be going to Montana for a few days to see some family! Also it’s going to be SUMMER in CALIFORNIA and I am going to be LIVING AT THE BEACH what the heck! I’m going to learn to surf and swim in the ocean and dance in the sand.

My puppies playing at the beach

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My mommy and papa gardening together and being cute

My family! From left to right: my brother Daniel (likes soccer and Hillary), me (likes running and saw baby weasels), my mommy (likes being amazing and vernal pools), my brother Ben (likes rocks and kicking really high), and my dad Karl (likes predatory bees and his wool hat)

Daniel’s birthday party

I want to end this blog with an environmental education lens. Every quarter we on the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Habitat Restoration Team put together a little newsletter, in-which we describe some of the field work we’ve been doing, exciting happenings in the NPS world, and whatever fields of ecology we feel like researching/sharing about. This quarter I decided to write a bit about the traditional foraging methods of the Coast Miwok, the Indigenous peoples of the SF Bay Area. I have pasted that below. I hope you enjoy!

Hello dear readers! 

Over the past six months that I have spent working here at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area I have had the pleasure of learning about the Indigenous people of this land and their unique stewardship practices. I am honored to now share a bit of what I have learned with all of you.  

Prior to European arrival, the Coast Miwok people largely sustained themselves by hunting wild game and foraging plants, directly tying their lives to the changing seasons. Foraging is the act of searching for and harvesting wild foods for sustenance. 

In early Spring the Coast Miwok gathered greens like Indian lettuce, nettle, mule-ears, and clover. Gray willow was foraged for basketry. The first fruits of wood strawberries emerged in early April, heralding a celebration during which dancers would carry baskets full of the delicate berries to a gathering point in the village center for all to eat. Spring also marked the season for foraging “Indian potatoes” – the bulbs and corms of grassland flowers in the lily family like Ithuriel’s spear, blue dicks, onions, and mariposa lilies – and soap root bulbs, which were used in the creation of brushes, glue, food, soap, and to stun fish. Late Spring marked the berry and seed season, during which the Coast Miwok foraged manzanita berries, blackberries, the seeds of checkerbloom, California buttercup, mule-ears, goldfields and more.

In the Summer tules were cut to dry for thatching, tule boats, cradles, kotchas (traditional Coast Miwok houses), and baskets. Summer was also the best season for hunting Mule deer. Hunters doused themselves in Brewer’s angelica, a perennial herb in the Apiaciae family, to eliminate their scent as they tracked their prey. Late-fruiting berries like huckleberries and blue elderberries were gathered in August.

In the Fall the Coast Miwok gathered thousands of pounds of tan and black oak acorns, which were then dried and stored in large granaries called cha’ka. Before they were eaten, the acorns were cracked, peeled, pounded to a fine flour, and leached of tannins. They were then boiled to a thick mush called nu’ppa or nappati. Autumn was also the time when California-laurel fruits were gathered, the flesh of-which was eaten raw and the nuts stored and baked. In late Fall  they gathered cordage materials from perennial herbs like California hemp, dogbane, and ground iris, as well as twine and rope materials from yellow bush lupine, riparian shrubs, and ninebark. 67 

During the rainy Winter months the Coast Miwok gathered golden chanterelle and oyster mushrooms, as well as the bark of hazel and willow for the creation of work-baskets and traps.

In the American colonial period, the U.S. government began passing anti-foraging laws aimed at pushing Native Americans off lands desired by white settlers. These laws were reaffirmed in the mid-19th century, following the end of the Civil War. At this time foraging was heavily restricted in the southern states, as it was seen as a method for formerly enslaved people to gather food for themselves and their families, a level of self-sufficiency many didn’t want them to attain. Today foraging is still largely banned or discouraged within most public spaces in the United States. In National Park Service lands, only members of federally recognized Native American tribes can request permission to forage. It is worth noting that many Indigenous tribes are not federally recognized. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office there are an estimated 400 non-federally recognized tribal entities here in the United States, and 574 recognized ones. Even when Indigenous people are granted permission to forage in NPS land, where they are permitted to do so and the legal uses of their harvest are restricted. They are permitted to forage only where the practice traditionally occurred, without causing a significant adverse impact to park resources or values, and are prohibited from selling plants within areas of the National Park System. 

Sources:

Charles Kennard. 1999. Plant Uses of the Coast Miwok. friendsofcortemaderacreek.org 

Milliken, Randall. 2009. Ethnohistory and Ethnogeography of the Coast Miwok and Their Neighbors, 1783-1840 (PDF). Oakland, CA: National Park Service. 

Lightfoot, Kent G., and Otis Parrish. California Indians and their environment: an introduction. No. 96. Univ of California Press, 2009. 

http://www.coastmiwokofmarin.org/our-history.html 

U.S. National Park Service. 2022. Tools and Trade – Yosemite National Park (U.S. National Park Service) nps.gov 

Kroeber, A. L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 78. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. p. 274. 

Graton Rancheria website: https://gratonrancheria.com/ 

Coast Miwok of Marin website: http://www.coastmiwokofmarin.org/our-history.html 

Thornton, Russell. (1997) “Tribal Membership Requirements and the Demography of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Native Americans”. Population Research and Policy Review Vol. 16, Issue 1, p. 33 ISBN 0-8032-4416-9  

USA.gov page on Federally recognized Indian tribes and resources for Native Americans: https://www.usa.gov/tribes 

Carroll, Clint. “Cherokee relationships to land: Reflections on a historic plant gathering agreement between Buffalo National River and the Cherokee Nation.” Parks Stewardship Forum. Vol. 36. No. 1. 2020.  

Hadeel Abbas. 2021. Decolonizing Foraging: Amplifying Black & Indigenous Knowledge. https://faithfullysustainable.medium.com/decolonizing-foraging-amplifying-black-indigenous-knowledge-69c86f72817a  

Jeffrey Olson. 2016. National Park Service Modifies Regulation for Gathering Plants for Federally-Recognized American Indian Tribes. https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/06-29-2016a.htm 

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