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Supervising, siding, hiking, and citing

Date: 06/05/2008

I'm no night owl. I am, in fact, a canary--as if that's not obvious to everybody--so I prefer to confine my flights to the daylight hours. I don't get out much after the sun goes down.

June 3 was no exception. Since the right and privilege to vote doesn't yet extend to the feathered members of this planet, I really had no reason to stay up and find out who won in the local elections. I suppose that someone could argue--my editor, perhaps, or any loyal readers I might have happened to pick up--that since I write a regular column that tends to touch on matters of local and political significance, it wouldn't have hurt me to keep my pinfeathers on the pulse of the county supervisors' race at the very least. But let me tell you: This stunning beak doesn't look as good as it does without my eight hours of beauty sleep, so my nest and my down comforter beat out the polls for my attention.

I woke up the next morning, refreshed and dazzling, and decided to check out the election results online. I recently bought a laptop, but I'm still getting used to this whole Internet thing. Yes, yes, I know I'm behind the times. I'm so non-techno-savvy, I thought that blackberries were for eating until a friend of mine--this young robin who's always talking away at the air--told me that they're for staying connected even when I'm away from a computer.

Intrigued, I settled down at my keyboard and began my journey onto the information superhighway. I'll admit that I'm not very fast more of a hunt-and-peck sort of typist.

For starters, I went to a website that apparently searches other websites and, in an attempt to find election results, typed in "Sterling" and "Gray," meaning John Sterling and Joni Gray, who had been vying for the 4th District county supervisor seat.

But instead of pontificating pundits and campaign slogans and lists of endorsements and scads of stats and percentages, I found a bunch of color samples for vertical siding. Seriously. There was "colonial white" and "heritage cream" and, yes, "sterling gray," right above "Oxford blue."

This Internet is waaay more complicated than I thought.

While poking around on my computer, though, I came across an e-mail from Bill Denneen, who looks like John Muir and is just about as big a nature lover. Bill would let snowy plovers nest in his beard if he could.

Well, I was shocked to see that Bill, who's been leading groups into the Nipomo Dunes for almost half a century, said that he had just led his last nature hike out to the stunning sands. He's not retiring because of aching joints or whatever else might make an 80-something-year-old decide to stop. It seems that he was cited by a ranger for taking a bunch of kids into an area where people weren't technically supposed to be. I wasn't there.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for protecting the natural world from encroaching humans, and I'm sure that the snowy plovers nesting out there need at least as much uninterrupted beauty sleep as I do. And I know that some of Bill's ways are a bit unorthodox, and he can rub people the wrong way, and he doesn't always say or do the PC thing.

But Bill is certainly a friend to the plovers and the dunes and all of Mother Earth. He encourages people to stop driving cars, thinks that allowing vehicles on the beach is dastardly, speaks for the steelhead trout, supports zero population growth, and even hates cigarettes because of the harm they do to the human body.

Is he perfect? No, I don't think so. Did he deserve that citation? Ummm probably. Like I said, I wasn't there, but I don't think rangers hand citations out willy-nilly. But should he stop hiking because of this recent scuffle over some sand? I don't think so.

Bill's a bit hard on himself, it seems to me. He estimated that he's taken more than 10,000 people out to the dunes to admire their natural beauty and learn a little bit about this amazing planet we live on.

"I tried to change our culture, tried to educate, tried to inspire like John Muir in Yosemite," he wrote in his farewell missive. "I've failed."

That's a bit harsh, a bit fatalistic. Maybe he's playing for sympathy, but if he is, it's working on me--at least a little.

Bill, you didn't fail. And I don't think you should stop sharing your vast expertise with people who want to learn. Maybe you could stand to pay a bit more attention to signs or rules or whatever, but you certainly shouldn't throw in the towel. John Muir wouldn't have. He told me in a dream while I was sleeping instead of watching the election results. What more proof do you need?

A lot of locals could stand to get a little more beauty in their lives, and I'm sure that one or two folks out there might change their minds about their consuming habits and stance on conservation when faced with the raw power of the dunes for the first time. Or maybe I'm putting too much weight on the transformative power of sand. Either way, I'm going back to bed.


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