Gary Horton: Savor our urban forest


Millions of trees
Don’t chop them down
See them growing for miles around
I like the rainclouds
I like the heat
Don’t want parched earth burning my feet
I like the jungle
I like its style…
Let it grow for miles and miles and miles

  • “Juicy Jungle,” The B-52’s

Like most here in the SCV, for years we’ve seen ducks fly back and forth overhead with the changing seasons.

There’s a pool at our house and sometimes pairing ducks would land and take a breather in the cool of our pool and our lawn for a day or two. Then they would go, flying away to parts unknown.

This annual back-and-forth fascinated our young kids and frustrated our house cats, who could look out windows – but that’s about it. Prime hunting, but for a glass pane. …

This spring changed things up a bit. Mama duck made her splash landing but this time with two male ducks. Mixed martial duck arts ensued and shortly after only the female remained.

She burrowed into an ivy geranium bush overhanging the pool. Deep, deep she dug as she worked, building what would turn out to be a full-on, fluffed-up, feathered nest. At nightfall, she’d close the door to her nest by pulling branches and flowers to cover the entrance.

How do they learn these things? This nest was protected by a giant bush on the south side and by water on the north. Ingenious.

And so it went for weeks. Finally, one day when the mother duck was out on business we checked into the nest, taking care not to disturb or touch anything.

Seven eggs, covered up by duck down, feathers, and twigs. “OK, we’ll leave good enough alone.” And we let the duck rule our roost.

Monday morning we woke up to see seven tiny ducklings taking their first swimming lessons in the pool. Back and forth, zipping around, paddling like mad.

I’d read to build steps up so the little birds could exit the pool. Early on they can’t fly, can’t jump and can get stuck. So the bricks went in, and without much delay the ducklings found their new stair stepper and diving board.

One highlight was ducklings catching the current from the spa and then shooting the waterfall down into the pool. It seems sport to them and they’ve taken to it.

Many will roll eyes that we’d allow wildlife in our pool. Point taken, and normally we’d not. However, as we’ve matured we’ve appreciated more all the wild life and plant life that abounds in the SCV.

We’re blessed that our backyard backs up to the Summit Arroyo Park. Acres of open space bring hundreds of birds and countless furry creatures – along with the occasional threatening coyote. Coyotes and skunks aside, the show is quite fascinating and, happily, it’s not unique to our yard or to Summit yards but really to just about everyone living in the SCV.

The five- or six-mile drive from one end of McBean to the other might be one of the prettiest boulevards in Southern California. Tree-lined, shady, soothing. Truly, a great place for a drive – or walk during low traffic hours.

All of our paseos, our city bike and walk paths – now well over 60 miles of improved pathways, all surrounded by both improved landscape and natural scenery. On any of them an early morning or evening trek brings nature’s activity to the forefront.

For good measure, let’s toss in the thousands of acres of open space our city has wisely, carefully, purposefully acquired. The SCV is now surrounded by permanent, preserved open space, complete with hiking trails that could take the average person years to transverse.

Very, very few communities can boast such splendor.

We may forget about this beauty that abounds when the heat hits 106 and lawns stress and water bills jump for a month or three. But the quality of life, the serenity, the intrigue of nature, and the entertainment of abundant local wildlife far makes up for the temporary stress.

And best of all, “it’s free to all.” At a time when government seems in a permanent tug-of-war of winners and losers, here in the SCV we’ve built a park system, paseos, trails, and natural space that’s available to all. All, of course, who will take the time to enjoy it.

And so, most mornings we walk or ride around the neighborhood, and most evenings Carrie and I will pause and enjoy her garden, watch the animals up on our slope – and now, enjoy the incredible journey of the seven new members to “the Horton family.”

All this and much more is available to all in the SCV to explore and experience.

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman


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