We begin here, at the edge of the Western frontier, where water meets the land below mountains and forests, where tectonic plates slide along a fracture in the earth. To the northwest of San Francisco, along the coast, West Marin and West Sonoma County sit on a triangular peninsula that reaches into the Pacific Ocean. From the coastal communities of Muir Beach and Jenner, to the tree-filled enclaves of Inverness and the peaks of Mount Tamalpais, to the small towns of Mill Valley, Sebastopol, and Petaluma, this mostly rural region is a convergence of some of the grandest Californian landscapes, home to artists, poets, philosophers, tradespeople, farmers, fishermen, musicians, laborers, and more.
The story of this place originates with the Coast Miwok Indians, who over the course of thirty centuries, lived as hunters and gatherers in both permanent villages and temporary settlements scattered throughout Marin and the southern Sonoma counties. They consisted of three major groups: the Kookooeko of Marin County, the Olamentko of Bodega Bay, and the Lekahtewutko near Petaluma. The Coast Miwok were the first people (hoi-ah’-ko), and it is from them that we receive a legacy of histories and mythologies, a vital understanding about what came before and what still remains. Among the things they left behind: broken shells, bones, spirits, names of places: Olampoli, Tamál, Oléma.
As the populations have changed, as people have settled here and thrived, there is still a deep sense of living with the land in harmony, as the Coast Miwok Indians did, instead of on it, indifferent to its complexities, in conflict with its wildness. To exist at the intersection of several intricate and interwoven ecosystems is to live, literally, on the edge: on the edges between redwood forests and salt marshes, between coastal shrubs and Pacific winds, between montane chaparrals and open woodlands. These blurred edges are everywhere: in the wilderness, in ideologies, in the tensions between art and commerce, between outsiders and natives, between governments and people.
Over the years, this region has become known for its preservation of land, environment, ranching, and farming, as well as for its rich architectural and craft history. The Sea Ranch houses, the Farallon Institute, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Point Reyes National Seashore Association, the J.B. Blunk house, Straus Creamery, farmers markets, oyster companies, wineries, and more. Its diverse microclimates, species, and people have drawn pioneers desiring the freedom to live on the fringes as well as those seeking refuge from the city. Like the Coast Miwok, displaced nomads have come to roam, moving with seasons and opportunities. Liberal and libertarian ideologies have abounded here; enclaves, monasteries, and communes have thrived. The surf is thrilling; the untrodden still available.
Nevertheless, despite the richness of the land and its history, jobs are scarce in the region. Ecological preservation, in the face of tourism and fierce encroachments, has required resilience, perseverance, and protest. In turn, the evolution of these counties, shaped by both internal and external forces, has been a story of both protection and accommodation.
Despite gentrification, the land here still possesses a sense of unearthed mystery and welcomes recluses, itinerants, and pilgrims. Because each ecosystem is dense with its own natural populations—each is a world unto itself, and a multiplicity of these hidden worlds exists—, it is still possible to wander and to get lost. One might lose herself, perhaps, and find a mirror in nature instead: in the volatile waters of Dillon beach, in the fog that breathes heavily on the hills around the Nicasio Reservoir, in the still and empty shores of Marshall, in the precariousness of the craggy coastlines that end at Bodega Bay. And it is here, in the local community’s preservation of the land as a refuge and a hiding place, that trails and beaches have become secret codes and handshakes, whispered among those who dwell here.
The individuals whose lives we bring to the first edition of Edition Local are varied: some are artists and craftspeople; others are musicians, teachers, carpenters, weavers, community organizers, bird experts, and historians. Some are transplants; others were born and raised here. But in common, they share this region of Northern California, West Marin and West Sonoma counties, and inevitably, they each have a profound and unique relationship with the land. They live with wilderness, which is the wilderness cultivated inside their homes and the wilderness beyond. As Gary Snyder once wrote, “wildness is not just the ‘preservation of the world,’ it is the world.” Through the things they make and the ideas they profess, a distinct sense of these places begins to emerge.