Deer Park Hike with Jim – 19 May 2014

When you hear Deer Park, you may start recalling scenes from Masterpiece Theater. Those vast country estates in Great Britain come to mind with acres of manicured lawns, carefully planted trees and copses, lakes, pools, classical statuary and herds of fallow & red deer. Our Deer Park in Fairfax, California is just a bit different but we do have a renegade royal, a remarkably opulent wedding gift and the last political duel in California as part of the tale. The royal was Charles S. Fairfax who sailed to California from Richmond, Virginia, crossed the Panamanian isthmus and appropriately took passage on the steamer “California” north arriving in San Francisco on June 23, 1850. The potential 10th Lord Fairfax, he never claimed the title preferring to live as an American citizen. This was giving up a significant history stretching back to the English Civil Wars and of his family who emigrated to a million acre plantation in Virginia. In America, his forbear Thomas Fairfax was the first person to employ George Washington as a surveyor. The Brits really do deer parks with panache.

Charles found the goldfields not the bonanza he’d imagined working in backbreaking jobs and losing whatever money he made as soon as he got it. In 1851 he left the diggings and decided on something more appropriate for a gentleman farmer. . . it was politics as a profession becoming a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He then became a member of the California State Assembly for Yuba and Sierra Counties and later Speaker of the Assembly and Clerk of the Supreme Court of California. He met his wife, Ada Benham, in San Francisco in 1854 and was married in Louisville, Kentucky on January 10, 1855 at the home of her stepsister. How they made their way there would be a tale in itself since the Transcontinental Railroad didn’t drive the golden spike until 1869. But they not only went there for their marriage but returned to San Francisco in 1855. They decided to visit Charles’ boyhood, Virginian friend, Dr. Alfred Taliaferro, at his country home in Marin County. “When they expressed their great admiration for his estate he (Dr. Taliaferro), gave them the property, all 32 acres as a wedding gift.” Thus, in 1855, the couple became residents of what would eventually become the town of Fairfax. Fairfax imported game birds to satisfy his zeal for hunting and improve his chances of success. Ada planted trees and flowers around the home and grounds and named the estate Bird’s Nest Glen.”

It was on Fairfax’s land that the final duel (dueling was illegal in California) occurred on May 25, 1861. State Assemblymen Daniel Showalter and Charles W. Piercy were entangled in a fierce political argument. Showalter had insulted Piercy and the latter had challenged him to a duel. Fairfax served them lunch, trying to calm the situation and get them to relent. Sadly the two men continued in their angry intransigence and met with rifles at 40 paces/yards on a grassy meadow near the Fairfax estate. Piercy was killed upon the second fire and the last political duel in California became history.

After his California State jobs, Fairfax became a Marin County Supervisor from 1865-67. When traveling to the east coast as chairman of the California delegation to the Democratic National Convention in New York City, he died suddenly at the age of 40 at Barnam’s City Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland (1869). Young widowed Ada moved to Fort Ross where Fairfax had property and she was known as Lady Fairfax delighting the American settlers with her sociable ways. Selling her holdings there she moved to Washington. D.C. where she passed away in 1888. They both are buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. But did they have a deer park as well as a Bird’s Nest? The oldest restaurant in Marin County is in Fairfax and is called Deer Park Villa dating from 1922. Straws in the wind, but no deer showed up for our hike. Some terrific references to early movie history in Fairfax as well as the Arequipa Sanitorium for tuberculosis and the source of renowned Arequipa Pottery, a part of the Arts and Crafts era. This is a wonderful slide show narrated by William Segar at the Fairfax Public Library in 2012. (39.06 minutes, so a commitment but if you enjoy history, you will be repaid) The Fairfax History pages are sponsored by the Fairfax Historical Society and have other fun videos including one about accordion festivals held in Fairfax in the 1930’s.

The hike first passes the Deer Park School now retired as a public school but recycled as the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center.

The Deer Park School Tree, a large California Bay that almost looks like it’s dancing, Umbellularia californica, is in the Laurel family. Reny Parker writes in her WILDFLOWERS OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S WINE COUNTRY AND NORTH COAST RANGES, “A large, wonderfully fragrant broad leaved evergreen tree found in woods, valleys, and forests. In the open it has a natural dome shaped crown. The leaves are oblong, lustrous, and aromatic dark green and shiny above, paler and smooth below.” Native Americans used the leaves as an insect repellant, in treatment of headaches and rheumatism. It is also know as Oregon Myrtle and Bay Laurel.” P. 236.

Jim points out something resting on the first right side branch.

On one of the huge, soft, lichen-covered branches a Turkey Vulture rests. Jim said they usually lay their eggs on the ground in various protected places but thought perhaps that she might be sitting on some eggs.

Sooty mold on some bay laurel leaves on a later tree. Result of an excretion of laurel aphids, soft-bodied pale-green insects that damage the leaves by blocking the light and reducing photosynthesis. The aphids produce a sweet substance called honeydew which ants love.

Jim holds up a sprig with many seedpods in a quick quiz. Two highly invasive plants along the trail were French and Scotch Broom.

Soft focused view of Ithuriel’s Spear or Grass Nut blooms with distinctive blue stamens. Triteleia laxa with laxa meaning “wide or loose probably referring to the spreading cluster of flowers which grow on a leafless stalk, one to two and a half feet tall. The leaves are long and narrow. The flowerstalks grow at an angle from the stem with the numerous violet-purple flowers growing in an umbel. The tube of the flowers is very long.”
Lilian McHoul in WILDFLOWERS OF MARIN. It was named after the spear of Ithuriel, an Angel in Milton’s PARADISE LOST. Bees and butterflies love this plant. Monday was primetime for the Ithuriel Spear along the trail but we also found another, similar bloom that confused our identifications. – site of an intriguing Small Press in San Francisco that has taken the fetching name

Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans, with distinctive white or cream colored stamens grows with a similar bouquet pattern though this sample is just a dynamic duo. (Ithuriel Spear tends to have a longer stem and non-shiny petals.) The elegant Brodiaea “has six shiny deep lavender petals forming a funnel shaped flower. The flowers gather in an umbel cluster of up to ten flowers at the top. California Indians baked the bulbs in fire pits and ate them as a vegetable.” Parker, P. 166

Marin Municipal Water District worker monitoring the paths and the MMWD land with photos and GPS sightings.

Reconnoitering with a couple of mountain bikers at six trail crossings, Yolanda Trail north toward Worn Spring Road got the nod. The other four were paths not taken. Worn Spring or should it be worn springs, ouch?

The trail provided some breathtaking views of Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. I have a 90 year old friend who likes to walk along Corte Madera Creek. He enjoys taking a break on a bench where he can see the profile of Mt. Tam and there likes to talk to his wife who passed away a year ago. He related that while he was in this reverie moment another older lady walker passed by and said, “You call that exercise old man!”

Jim makes a point along the way amid Elegant Brodiaea, Farewell to Spring and the grasses that he knows so well.

He gathered a variety of flowers and grasses during lunch and spread them out before us for dessert. Here’s an EXCELLENT flower and grass guide put out by the East Bay Regional Park District. It blends both the flowers and grasses in one place, gives large enough photos for identification, points out native and introduced species – is a great tool for learning & review. It’s just across San Pablo Bay, so the flora is not that different from Marin. You’ll recall that we hiked Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Park with Armando, remember the soap plants and the foggy lunch?

Some Red-stem Filaree (Erodium cicutarium) in harvest mode about to prepare its seed for planting. Jim selected the brown ones that were ready to plant themselves and showed us how the heat of a hand will hasten the process readying the seed to bore into the soil.

A little later on the seeds twist into corkscrew shapes preparing for their burrow in the earth, the hairs that you see torque the twisting process.

Lunch over and getting ready for the return walk, its all downhill from here.

Nancy asked about the red leaves at the tops of this Madrone start and a nearby California Bay. Jim said that in nature RED is used as a warning color and that perhaps this was the way plants avoided being browsed.

Ready for a tiny tea party, for little guests with a big imagination when they visit the “hollow”. We observed some toys in the cavity of the tree as well. Perhaps a motivator for going on a walk, perhaps just for fun and excitement.

Monardella villas ssp. villas, Coyote Mint, common to dry rocky or gravelly areas, often covered with butterflies during the summer bloom. “Multiple tiny petals form equally small two lipped floral tubes. From even a short distance the profusion of flowers look colorfully hairy. Leaves are oval and fragrantly minty. Spanish settlers used this perennial as a cure for sore throats.” Wildflowers, Parker, p.148

Margaret Armstrong in her 1915 classic, FIELDBOOK OF WESTERN WILDFLOWERS, calls it Western Pennyroyal or Mustang Mint but is perhaps describing a sister bloom, Monardella lanceolata: “ . . small bright pinkish-lilac flowers, crowded in terminal heads, about an inch across, with purplish bracts. The outer ring of flowers blooms first and surrounds a knob of small green buds, so that the effect of the whole flower-head slightly suggests a thistle. This has a strong, pleasant smell like Pennyroyal and is abundant in Yosemite, and elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada foothills.”

Canyon Dudleya, Dudleya cymosa, is in the Stonecrop Family, Crassulaceae. “A loose oval cluster of succulent leaves form the base for a fleshy stalk with smaller, intermittent, thick alternate leaves. The bloom, a yellow to red little urn formed by the five narrow, lance like petals, is apparent atop this native found on hot rocky hills. This species of succulent gets its name from Stanford University botany professor William R. Dudley (1849 – 1911). Another common name is Live Forever.” Wildflowers, Parker, P. 75.
You can see the greenish tones of the serpentine rock which provides a harsh environment for plant growth tending to dwarf those able to get a roothold. Dudleya have adapted to serpentine soils and actually require them to survive.

Armand amid some Artemisia. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana, is in the Sunflower Family, Asteraceae. Parker writes, “The cute and cryptic common name Mugwort may conjure up strange images, the herb has been given dream inducing attributes through time. Growing to 2.5 m, 8 ft, under good conditions in open to shady locations such as foothill woodlands, chaparral, and valley grasslands. . . California Mugwort has fragrant foliage which was used by California Indians to relieve the effects of Poison Oak. Chumash used it to discourage insects in stored acorns. . . Good for stabilizing or restoring disturbed areas with moderate summer water.” P. 95

Downhill heading to a switchback, dark green Coyote bushes (Baccharis pilularis) punctuate and accentuate the fast drying grasses on the hill now with only suggestions of green.

The hike went through the cool and quiet of a couple of young Redwood groves as well as a number of other environments along the way. Here’s a wonderful blog ongoing by a Marin County photographer, Donald Kinney, who has both spiritually uplifting, superb photographs and excellent, succinct descriptions done with a sense of humor. His newest book is “Photographing Marin County”.

A Soap Plant community shows here with leaves typically flaccid stretching along the ground and budding stalks rising. Should the Soap Plant want to attend a workshop and have to pick up a badge, it would need the large, economy size since it goes by Chloragalum pomeridianum. The leaves show its family pattern – Lily. McHoul writes, “The generic term refers to the greenish “milk” or juice of the plant, and the specific name informs you that the flower opens only in the afternoon; however, they are often open throughout the day.” p.35 Jim pointed out that the plant relies on the Sphingid moth for nighttime pollination as well as passing bumblebees during the day.

Forgot this one, we passed its showy sprays a number of times.

Coast or Seaside Buckwheat, Eriogonum latifollium. “Look for this hardy perennial in cracks of smooth coastal rock faces. on dry beach sand dunes or in stony areas. Its pom pom shaped flower clusters are white in summer, turning to rust in the late fall.” (Parker, P 32) Native Americans prized this plant for its many medicinal uses: for stomach pains, menstrual disorders, and headaches. Various species of buckwheat were used as food the small seeds were ground and eaten raw, mixed with porridge and cakes and dried for future uses. Here’s a wonderful pdf from the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum detailing the Native American Uses of California Plants – called Ethnobotany i.e. the study of the human uses of plants.

We’ve returned to the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center. There were lots of kids playing when we left on our hike. It’s a little quieter now except for the mural which is a terrific tribute to “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai/1829-32 and . . . a splashing review of colors.

MANY THANKS TO Jim Coleman for leading us on our last three hikes as well as a lovely tour of Angel Island over Mt. Livermore. He stood in well for our hike leader Michael Ellis and for Armando Quintero. Thanks for your savvy, stagecraft and sense of humor. We are much richer for our hikes with you. Looking forward to seeing you in situ at OAEC and on some hikes soon again.

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