I went to UCLA because it was a reason to get away from the small, foothill town that I grew up in. Like many destinations that you flee to, it was more about the escape than it was about the particular setting. I found myself suddenly in a matrix of rich suburbanites and sleepy urban areas with expensive juices, without a car. I was disenchanted with my new home to say the least. In my fourth year of undergraduate, I was lucky enough to get my hands on keys to an old Subaru and through these retro wheels I began to see more and more of Southern California . I regularly traveled to the tide pools around Palos Verdes for my senior capstone, trekked to Bakersfield and Perris for summer field work, and hiked frequently in the Santa Monica Mountains for a course on California conservation. By expanding my view to cover more and more of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, I slowly began to understand Angelino pride.
I started working at Mountains Restoration Trust around three months after graduating from UCLA. My early career at MRT brought me to many remote areas within the Malibu Creek Watershed in order to supervise a crew of technicians removing an invasive species of crayfish in the Santa Monica Mountains. I was proud to consider a day surveying frogs and native fish under the shade of oak, willow, and mulefat a “typical work day”. I began my true romance with Southern California wading through the entirety of Malibu Creek, in awe of the beauty of such a massive canyon, of the cattails covered in exuvia that I pushed through, and of the charming kingfisher that followed me along the way as if to guard its caches of crayfish that were left within depressions of larger boulders.
MRT brought me closer to the natural beauty of Southern California than anything I had experienced before and ultimately concreted my reason to stay. The longer I worked at MRT, the more I regularly interacting with biologists and land managers who shared my exuberance for the Santa Monica Mountains. I began to understand the principles that were taught to me in my classes. The Santa Monica Mountains are so special in their beauty and rarity and yet they face so many threats and require so many resources in order to coordinate their management.
On November 9th, I sat in a coffee shop in Hollywood and watched the Woolsey Fire whip through MRT’s restoration sites, landholdings, and nursery facilities. I could not help feeling despair after losing so many natural and material resources. Not to mention, that after nearly six years of struggling to embrace my new home, I finally felt settled and near moments later my comfort was ashen! I wondered what I could do to heal this burn scars and return my sense of ease. I am writing from the other side of an atmosphere river that washed through southern California weeks ago – the scorched shrubs are re-sprouting from their root crowns and many of the hillsides are blanketed in green. For the next six months, I will be working UCLA and the La Kretz Center for Conservation to oversee 50 teams of undergraduates studying the impacts and recovery of this devastating fire. For now, I see my purpose right in front of me as I refind my home in the sprouting fields of the Santa Monica Mountains.