Once upon a time, everything was open space, wild, ungrazed land. Animal trails leading to the water and trails of Kashia Pomo eventually gave way to dirt roads worn by settlers from as far away as Spain and Russia. Later paved, secondary roads were replaced by viaducts and highways.
From an eagle’s perspective, it might have looked like the earth was being carved up.
As more and more people arrived in Sonoma County, the lines between built and unbuilt space stretched out in a maze of patterns, as farms, housing estates, parks, town centers, forests, rivers, gravel mines and warehouses, all collided with each other.
Today, the idea of “living on the edge” is less a metaphor than a reality. From above, these borders appear like seams in a patchwork of human impressions on the earth. In southwest Sonoma, a flower pattern is stitched onto a patch of solid green, coming to life in a park of mobile homes arranged like daisies, each unit a petal around a pistil-shaped courtyard, a bouquet next to an open meadow.
A fallow field next to a neighborhood east of Petaluma is charred black. Hay farmers live side by side with soccer moms, a stone’s throw from a sewage treatment plant and a hospital. At the eastern end of Rohnert Park, a new development marks order over a sea of wild green grass painted with seasonal pool streaks. And along the coast, Dillon Beach is home to cliffside perches — as close to the Pacific as you’ll see in any panhandle from San Diego to Vancouver.
These endless borders connect urban, suburban and rural landscapes, much like the lines that artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude played with in their “Running Fence” in 1976. At night, they occupy the same liminal space evoked by Bruce Springsteen on the album “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. In daylight, they become ribbons of endless possibilities, like those a child might imagine when listening to Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” for the first time.
Looking from above, one wonders what Sonoma County looked like 500, 100 or even 10 years ago. The open space barely means what it once was, before the fires. And then there were always fires. And it used to be an open space.