The White Point Nature Center, reestablishing California...
I am forever grateful of any efforts to recognize the importance of fostering and preserving our fragile California ecosystem. I grew up hiking in the Santa Monica mountains below Mulholland Highway when Mule Deer were common place and we would watch herds graze and water at local ponds just a few miles from "the city." when my family moved from the San Fernando "Valley" to suburbia...Westlake Village n the late 1960's we would find arrowheads and pieces of baskets in what we names "the Indian Caves." We watched one day as it was graded and then filled with water to form a reservoir. I thing the Westlake Boys and I knew every trail and dirt road in the area. I can still smell the greasewood and sage if I close my eyes, or the sweetness of damp oak leaves in the night air. It is intertwined with who, what I am. The places I once hiked are a memory, and so are much of what Southern Coastal California was.
The White Point Nature Center was overlooked by myself for several years. While exploring the more familiar Royal Palms State Park, White Point Beach, and Bluff Park--literally across the street-I decided to "check out" the Nature Center. I was immediately met by a very energetic and knowledgeable Neil, who was "on duty" in the gift shop. what inspired me about Neil is he was totally into and in harmony with everything the Nature Center stood for. He was also gracious enough to open up his heartfelt concerns for things we all take for granted, like the rainfall being half of what it should be in Coastal San Pedro. As I looked out the window at the seemingly parched and brown flora, I understood what Neil was talking about.
By no stretch of the imagination, The White Point Nature Center Reserve grounds were the "pulse" of our coastline. Half the annual rainfall had left its mark on the area, the immediate area surrounding the Center itself was the only area to get "help." This area is comprised of several "Native" gardens, one for each of the four directions: North, South, East, and West, each dedicated with plants which thrive in that exposure. Signs in each, and all along the trails, are informative and readable. Inside the center there are displays including "real animal skins" from present and past mammalian residents, a tribute to both the Japanese abalone and vegetable harvesters, and a place where the younger visitors can interact including coloring and touching stuff.
I offered up to Neil I was a Cal Poly Tech horticulture major turned Philosophy Grad, who, in the late 1970's, was part of a movement to conserve water by landscaping with native plants indigenous to Southern California. Both our attention drifted towards the residential San Pedro neighborhood in the distance, their bright green lush and well irrigated plants mocking the "real" world where we stood. I reflected back to when I did landscaping before I graduated, and dear Mrs. Feeble would freak out if her ficus demonstrated the slightest tinge of browning. It was unspoken, but inwardly, as much as I hated to admit it, California is in no way ready to go horticulturally commando. Even when I was at Cal Poly it was a movement with little inertia. I was reminded of how important the work of Neil and the Nature Center is.
Neil and I talked for easily 20 minutes and I grew from his optimism, appreciation, knowledge, but most of all his commitment to share his thoughts and most importantly his feelings. Neil could not have been more at one with what he and the Nature Center represented and more importantly shared. It is through people like him, our natural local habitat is taken for granted. The health and state of our immediate environment is visible here. Neil urged me to take a walk in the surrounding trails which snake through what was once an important component of Fort MacArthur, the remnants of big gun installations and batteries.
The next day I took Neil's advice and took a hour hike on roughly a mile loop up and across the reserve. I looked down from the apex upon the Center turning orange in the waning light. I looked beyond the center in the Pacific Ocean, and then I glance up the coast line. The earth I was standing on was the gateway to the ocean, through it everyone past and present passed to enter the sea. This "gateway" is in our hands, and the guidance of committed conservationist like Neil. Thanks Neil, thanks White Point Nature Center, thanks for keeping this gate open.