The Bridge and the Transition Zone – Part 2


April 3, 2008
West Marin Citizen


Browse in West Marin

It is tricky, this “nature” business. When we talk about it we are talking about ourselves, in more ways than one. (Mark Dowie explored the question evocatively on these pages, a few months ago.) Try to split them apart – humans here, nature there – and you’d have to dissect your own mind, as well as cast off your biological functioning. There are no instruments fine enough.

Money is part of the conundrum, no question. The precious view of nature is the luxury of people who derive their sustenance from elsewhere. But I don’t want to go that route. The polemics of elitism do not get us anywhere. Instead I want to talk a little more about nature.

I get the impression that people sometimes embrace the idealized version of it less for what it is than for what it isn’t. Nature serves roughly the same function as the tower in the Medieval legends, in which the king locks up the princess to keep her pure. It is a barrier against development, and I understand that impulse well, because I share it.

But sometimes the resort to the tower becomes reflexive and that’s the case here. No one is proposing to violate the wetlands. No one is proposing a path that does not exist now, at the edge. The bridge really is a boundary issue. It is about what happens at the edge where human habitation rubs up against an area that should be left to function on its own.

The only difference would be human function. A bridge would enable people to walk to town instead of drive. At present, without the bridge, the path serves only for walking dogs and leisurely strolls.

Let’s say a bridge is not built. And let’s say further that the park removes the existing path, so as not to disturb nature. (Does anyone really argue that walkers pose a bigger threat to wildlife than dogs do?) What would be the boundary then? First the row of houses along the Levee Road, and the ones along Sir Francis Drake in Inverness Park.

If the footsteps of kids would be an invasion of the wetlands, what are we to say about these petrochemical-using and car-harboring domiciles? Just past them is the Levee Road, with its cars and trucks and noise and fumes. That’s Levee Road. The tidal marsh used to go all the way to Olema. The levee was an interruption of it. If human use constitutes a violative boundary, the road would have to go, along with the houses.

I am not proposing that. Nor am I pointing a finger. It is human nature to want to draw boundaries in such a way that we ourselves just make the cut. Most of us who live out here want to curb development – except for the part that we ourselves inhabit. That includes supporters and opponents of the bridge alike.

Given that human habitation will continue, just what should comprise the transition zone between it and the wetlands? Houses? Cars? Or a working path that would enable us to live in a way that is a little more consistent with the nature we are trying to protect?

A link between Point Reyes Station and Inverness Park would be a first step – as it were – in creating a real walking culture here. It could help lead to a path along Sir Francis Drake all the way to Inverness, which we sorely need.

The proposed alternative – a path along the south side of Levee Road – is less than second best. It would require crossing the Levee Road twice. Find a parent who is enthused about that. It also would make the route much longer, thus discouraging the walking a path should encourage.

As for the bridge itself, I have heard the same allegations you have. It will have to be a monstrosity, we are told, to accommodate the Americans for Disabilities Act and the prospect of a 100-year flood. That requires looking into. It is not unknown for bureaucracies to try to kill ideas by proposing unacceptable versions of them.

Perhaps we’ll have to seek some changes in the law. A hundred-year flood? If we don’t find ways to get out of our cars then those will become more likely, and more frequent. We have to break this insane circle somewhere. Can we just agree that a small footbridge would be a good idea, and then find a way to create one that is in keeping with the scale of this place?

I spent many years in Washington D.C., and it dismays me to see debates here mimic the worst of politics there. People vilify their opponents. They adopt theological positions that feed intense moral dramas in which compromise becomes betrayal. We humans are here. We are part of nature and it is part of us. Wouldn’t it be something if we could find a way to talk about walking from one place to another, without all the sturm and drang?