Bay Nature: Restitches our connection to natural world
By Lou Fancher
No matter how grand the “internet of things” becomes, all the digital wizardry in the world will never rival the unsurpassable majesty of nature.
Applied to the Bay Area, this global truth spears the soul four times a year as it arrives in the unassuming vehicle of the quarterly magazine Bay Nature.
Marking the 15th anniversary of a publication dedicated to the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area, the magazine, whose offices are in Berkeley, has flowered into 53 consecutive editions, an informational website, “Bay Nature on the Air” videos, and free naturalist-led hikes.
At the helm of the independent nonprofit organization, Bay Nature Institute, sits publisher and editor David Loeb. Or rather, Loeb hikes, animal-watches, kayaks, cycles and otherwise explores water, land and sea while searching for the next story, the next gorgeous photograph.
“I am part of an amazing community,” Loeb said. “People devoted to saving, helping and interacting with nature.”
Loeb says that in the 15 years he has been producing the magazine, he has been surrounded by continued, steady interest in exploring, recreating and enjoying the Bay Area’s many pleasures.
“It’s one of the reasons people move here,” he said.
But you don’t have to take his word alone. Talk to any real-estate agent, consult with Fortune 500 company recruiters, ask academics or students, poll immigrants and California natives, read books by authors like UC Berkeley professor emeritus of geography Richard A. Walker, and historians who chronicle the area’s “green culture”—or just step outside and open your eyes. Evidence of nature’s endless creativity, breathtaking beauty, stunning and sometimes ferocious power is everywhere in our midst. People move to the Bay Area for various reasons, but for many people, nature is the number one reason.
Asked to reflect on the Bay Nature publication, Walker says it has added value and has established connections throughout the collective intelligence of the Bay Area’s environmentally aware public. Walker has written extensively on California in books like “The Country in the City” (2007), “The Atlas of California” (2012) and others.
“Bay Nature offers a kind of central clearinghouse for ideas concerning the Bay Area environment: ecology, conservation, activism, recreation, and more. Nothing like this existed before Bay Nature,” Walker said.
Loeb moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast in 1973. After working on publications involved in human rights and democracy in Latin America, he and Heyday Books publisher Malcolm Margolin founded the magazine in 2001.
“Bay Nature is not a political journal,” Loeb said. “We help people restitch their connection to the natural world.”
Speaking from personal experience, Loeb says recognizing plants by name, identifying birds and animals he encounters on trails and beaches, and noting how returning wildflowers mark the seasons provides him with a sense of belonging.
“I gain a deeper sense of home. I’m part of the ecosystem,” he said.
The January/March 2015 issue of Bay Nature bolsters his and Walker’s claims. Instead of assuming alarming positions or sanctimonious tones, the carefully curated magazine presents highly researched articles on sea levels rising, post-fire insects on Mount Diablo, “cookie dough” in the bottom of Mountain Lake, a “sea-to-summit” trek on the San Mateo Coast, a long-form journalism story of coyotes in the modern world and more. Gloriously, the issue’s centerpiece, “An Ocean Garden,” weaves the lace-like, jewel-toned, silhouetted images of photographer/writer Jose Iselin throughout her elegant article describing facts and “the fine art of seaweed.”
Praising the “high level of sophistication” in its articles and photos, Walker says, “I’m always learning new things from reading it. In a time when print journalism was collapsing in the face of the internet, Bay Nature bucked the trend and opened up a superior outlet for a coterie of excellent nature writers and photographers around the bay.”
Loeb is less dramatic, but said, “We’ve always been about celebration and exploration rather than instruction. We look for beautiful and interesting places to visit that are off the radar. We go under the surface and say, ‘What’s happening?’ When we started, there was a plethora of places that were saving this watershed or that species and so on. We needed a place that celebrated and threw attention at these same areas. It was a conscious decision.”
Loeb says a series of articles on climate change that started in 2009 emphasizes the great research being conducted, instead of “the doom and gloom” of the subject. Readers have encouraged them to continue the series. An article on hunting drew considerable response, including “nasty letters” that he says didn’t surprise him but aren’t typical.
“Frankly, we get very little response. People will say, ‘That’s a great article,’ but you don’t get people changing their lives,” he said.
But he’s only partly right, because the hikes that started in 2002 have become enormously popular. From looking for butterflies with an enthusiastic lepidopterist to learning about redwoods from a winter intern at a regional park, the free tours vary in length and terrain, but not in the number of people clamoring to participate.
“We’d do more of them, if we had more people to lead them,” Loeb said.
Loeb is proud of the Bay Area community for protecting the land. As a result, he says, we have over one million acres of protected open space.
“The open space we have here is only ours to enjoy because of individuals,” he said. “We should never take them for granted.”
And backing his words with action, the annual Bay Nature Local Hero Awards on Sunday March 22 will honor three individuals for their contributions.
This year’s recipients are Ralph Benson, Executive Director of Sonoma Land Trust (Conservation Action Award), Julia Clothier, Education Center Director of Point Reyes National Seashore Association (Environmental Education Award), and Javier Ochoa Reyes, Project Coordinator for Groundwork Richmond (Youth Engagement Award). They were chosen by Bay Nature Institute board and staff from more than four dozen nominations submitted by members of the conservation community.
Loeb calls Benson “one of those quietly effective people who by building alliances has saved an enormous amount of land.” Praising Clothier’s effective and dynamic education programs, he says thousands of kids constituting a “whole generation of environmentalists” have trained under her auspices.
“She’s a hero who ensures kids have the environment in their bones, in their hearts as they grow up and become the decision makers in our community,” he said.
And among the future leaders, Loeb predicts Reyes will have an impact.
“He is an amazing example of a young, inner city individual who has started to take a leadership role in his community. He’s recruiting and training other youth, bringing nature back into the inner city, inspiring others to get involved. He was very impressive to us,” Loeb said.