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Shaking the Hand of the Land: Getting To Know Place

Categories: Blog

by Andrew Wollenberg | Andrew is a guest blogger writing about Filoli’s Nature Preserve. This is the first in an occasional blog series. Enjoy!

When we meet a person for the first time we are typically introduced through a mutual friend, a work setting or simply risk saying hello and sparking up a conversation. From that point forward it is an adventure of vulnerability getting to know each other. I decided to take this same approach as I began my time researching at Filoli. Asking myself, ‘what does it mean to leave everything outside the front gate, the errands I need to run, the work that needs my attention, any stress or worries of daily life, and approach the property with a clear mind to get acquainted. How does one truly get to know place?’

Who are the people who caretake the property? What do people who work at Filoli get excited about? What animals live here? What birds live on site and which ones commute through the area? Does it feel different in the morning vs the afternoon, on a Tuesday vs a Saturday? So many questions and observations when meeting a new place.

My first day I drove onto the property and was greeted by a friendly gate keeper who directed me in. I slowly followed the road that leads to the parking lot. I was filled with a sense of childlike excitement that I wanted to contain as I felt like doing cartwheels celebrating this beautiful land. I was meeting Mary Anne, the Nature Education Supervisor, to check in and get the lay of the land. As I approached the Visitor Center I saw her rushing up to meet me and she apologized for being two minutes behind schedule, but her reason was amazing to me. As she was coming to meet me she said she had to stop and wait because a doe and her baby were separated from each other by the road she was walking along, so she paused for a few minutes to let them rejoin each other. To me, this was the absolute best reason to be behind (or right) on schedule. I thought, ‘do all the people who work here have this same sense of care towards the animals who live here? Do other people move slowly enough to notice that the mama and baby are separated and might be stressed by that and do what they can to help?’

After checking in, I was off on my own to explore the trails and get to know the place. I raced out of Mary Anne’s office to go explore, led by my excitement, when I went whizzing by the office across from hers. I realized I was racing, stopped myself and reversed a few steps to again introduce myself to Nick and Louise. I remembered, I am meeting a place and that people are an integral part of place. We had a wonderful conversation about bees and beekeeping as they had recently visited the beehives on site and had lots of interesting facts to share. As a beekeeper myself, I was again excited by the conversation. I realized had I not slowed down I would have missed connecting with two fellow bee admirers and Filoli employees. From there, I was off to explore the trails but this time my excitement was with me and not racing 30 steps ahead.

I headed out to the horse pasture and noticed a group of wild turkeys heading up Dun Dag Trail so I decided to investigate. They casually scratched their way along not minding my presence. I followed them to the top of the hill and suddenly experienced a strange sense of pressure and feeling of not wanting to move, I paused to examine my surroundings. Suddenly three bucks stood up from behind a downed oak tree about 25 yards away. Two ran off and the third stood there looking at me for several minutes before casually leaving. I wondered if I was sensing the pressure they were experiencing from me being there? Did they not want to move as they were bedded down in a cozy warm spot in the sun? So many questions and I was only 30 minutes into my first day researching.

I continued on to the new Estate Trail where I spent some time in the Redwood grove writing about my first morning. Several Chestnut-backed chickadees came in to see what I was doing and one brave one flew just above my head to investigate closer.

It was now time for me to make my way out and leave for the day. I got to where the Estate trail meets Old Cañada Road and heard some loud leaf noise and little peeps. All of a sudden thirty plus wild turkeys emerged from the bushes and were headed my way, eight or so hens and two dozen fluffy chicks. I paused on the edge of the trail to prevent scaring them off and watched to see how they would behave with me there. The turkeys kept walking towards me, closer and closer. Stories about how aggressive turkeys could be flowed through my thoughts and I found myself unsure what would happen next. In fact, this past winter I watched from Cañada road as a tom turkey scared off three coyotes in the field at the entrance of Filoli, so I knew first-hand how truly tough they could be. I stood there relaxed and the hen in the front walked next to me about three feet away, stretched out her wings and flapped several times. The flock casually moved in my direction and within a few minutes I was completely surrounded by them as they moved by. They moved around me within three feet as if I were a boulder in a stream. Again, I felt my daily agenda arise of the long list of items I needed to accomplish but again I let the thought pass and just enjoyed being so closely in their presence. Could the hens have also been plotting their to-do list for the day? With that many mouths to feed they probably had a lot to accomplish that day.

As I returned my walkie talkie and wished the friendly front desk people a good day, I relished in the fact that this was only my first two hours of the first day of research. Filoli is truly a special place as are the people who take care of it on a daily basis. It is evident in the comfort of the animals, the amazing manicured gardens and the overall attention to detail.

Nice to meet you Filoli, I’m Andrew.