Eulogy for a watershed: Tam Valley in Marin County

My good friend David Healy sends along a touching/troubling essay about the development of his Marin County town, Tam Valley, in the days of his and my youth, approximately fifty years ago. 

    When I was a kid in the valley, we didn't need "facilities." We had the hills to hike in and the fields to play football in. Recreation was spontaneous, creative, inventive.

    I remembered again Coyote Creek made sterile, and Corte Madera Creek and Tamalpais Creek, and the creeks of Terra Linda, Lucas Valley, and Novato following suit. I thought of all the marshes long since filled, like the ones where Redwood High School and Mill Valley's new Middle School now stand, and I wondered what the students in these schools know about the heritage that could have been theirs.

    Not much, I guess. They study biology in text books while the great marshes rot under them, beneath six feet of "clean fill."

    I thought again about my Tam Valley childhood, and I realized that almost everything I know about the natural world I learned during those years. Most of what I studied in college text books I have forgotten, but childhood experiences have stayed with me. Those years cannot be repeated; every wild place of significance which I knew as a kid is gone, transformed, sanitized, "brought up to standard." I realized, standing in that desolate asphalt and weed covered school yard, that when I wrote LIVING WATER, a story about the Sierras and the mighty watershed of the Sacramento River, I was really writing a eulogy for the little watersheds of my childhood creeks, and that THIS LIVING EARTH, which traces the learning process my wife and I experienced in the San Geronimo Valley and West Marin, is just as much an epitaph for the house–covered Tam Valley grasslands.

Though published in l973, David Cavagnaro's writing remains as potent and as relevant as ever.What will our future look like, when kids today — in Marin County and around the world — grow up away from nature? 

At least we have some idea of the past. Here's a favorite painting of Marin by William Keith, from 1869, before it was "brought up to standard." 


It's called San Anselmo Valley near San Rafael

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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