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Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas

Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas: Exploring a Hidden Landscape of Transformation and Resilience

Design and Cartography by RUTH ASKEVOLD
Julie Beagle
Erin Beller
Elise Brewster
Shari Gardner
Sarah Pearce
Jake Ruygt
Micha Salomon
Bronwen Stanford
Chuck Striplen
Alison Whipple
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas
    Book Description:

    How has California's landscape changed? What did now-familiar places look like during prior centuries? What can the past teach us about designing future landscapes? TheNapa Valley Historical Ecology Atlasexplores these questions by taking readers on a dazzling visual tour of Napa Valley from the early 1800s onward-a forgotten land of brilliant wildflower fields, lush wetlands, and grand oak savannas. Robin Grossinger weaves together rarely-seen historical maps, travelers's accounts, photographs, and paintings to reconstruct early Napa Valley and document its physical transformation over the past two centuries. The Atlas provides a fascinating new perspective on this iconic landscape, showing the natural heritage that has enabled the agricultural success of the region today. The innovative research of Grossinger and his historical ecology team allows us to visualize the past in unprecedented detail, improving our understanding of the living landscapes we inhabit and suggesting strategies to increase their health and resilience in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95172-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
    (pp. viii-ix)
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 1-23)

    Contemporary landscapes present a puzzle. Because of the intensity of recent land use, underlying patterns and processes are difficult to interpret, overwhelmed by a maze of buildings and roads, culverts and levees. As we try to improve the health of our rivers, wetlands, and woodlands we often don’t know how they used to work and how they have changed. Our standard scientific tools, powerful as they may be, are relatively ineffective at unraveling the past few centuries of landscape transformation.¹

    Fortunately, a diverse cast of surveyors, writers, artists, and photographers left records of the landscapes they saw. Looking through their...

    (pp. 25-47)

    For the many 19th-century travelers who visited Napa Valley, one element particularly captured the imagination: the great oaks. The trees inspired a substantial literature of superlative accounts in journals, books, and newspaper articles. Described by author Robert Louis Stevenson and botanist William Brewer, photographed by Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, Napa Valley’s giant oaks lent a sense of grandeur and beauty to the landscape that was widely appreciated, even as the trees declined.

    The trees formed a complex savanna landscape of widely spaced individuals, occasional groves, and open meadows. The age of some of the massive trees (as much as...

  8. 3. CREEKS
    (pp. 49-65)

    Cutting through the oak savannas were sinuous corridors of aquatic habitat: the valley’s narrow but consequential creeks. Occupying a fraction of the area of the oak lands, creeks nevertheless played a critical role in the valley landscape, as they still do today. The Napa Valley’s creeks connect the hills to the valley, conveying the water and sediment needed to maintain alluvial soils, groundwater aquifers, valley wetlands, and riverine habitats.

    Creeks support a high density and diversity of wildlife, providing an array of environments distinct from the surrounding land. Songbirds, newts and tree frogs, striped skunks and black-tailed deer all use...

    (pp. 67-79)

    The stories of oaks and creeks suggest some of the seasonal drama of the historical Napa Valley landscape. In the rainy season, creeks spread out and merged with river overflow to temporarily flood the bottomlands. Rising groundwater approached the land surface. Wetlands filled from rainfall and runoff.

    By summer, the landscape had transformed. Floodwaters sank into the ground. Most streams ran dry as the water table fell. Valley oaks, well spaced to avoid water competition, dominated the landscape and reflected the scarcity of surface water. Napa’s streets, famously muddy in the winter, turned to dust.

    As the valley dried, the...

  10. 5. NAPA RIVER
    (pp. 81-119)

    The headwaters of the Napa River can be found in the deep canyons of Mt. St. Helena, on the northern margin of Napa Valley. Seeps and springs trickle into small creeks that emerge onto the valley floor, initiating the complex, interacting system of vegetation, sediment, and water we call the Napa River. Today, the river mostly follows a single deep channel, with long stretches of flat, open water and a narrow riparian corridor. It is easy to assume that the tree-lined, still-sinuous river retains its original character. But historical records show that the Napa River looked and functioned very differently...

    (pp. 121-141)

    Today most people approach the Napa Valley from the south by the highway. But 150 years ago, the best way was by boat, passing first through the broad tidal marshlands along the Napa River. From San Francisco, steamships entered the mouth of the river at Mare Island and headed in a generally northerly direction, skirting Slaughterhouse Point, Good Luck Point, Green Island, Bull Island, Horseshoe Bend, Lone Tree Reef, Carr’s Bend, and Jack’s Bend before reaching the landings at Suscol or downtown Napa. This serpentine, 15-mile course followed the natural deepwater channel created by the twice-daily inflow and outflow of...

    (pp. 143-151)

    As the previous chapters illustrate, the Napa Valley landscape tells a complex story. In 200 years—just three long lifetimes—tidal marshes have been drained and turned into potato fields, flooded as salt ponds, and, in a number of cases, returned to marsh again. Some streams have been removed while others have been extended. Oak savannas have become cattle ranches, fields of wheat, prune orchards, vineyards, and cities. The transformation of the past two centuries has created a dynamic and productive landscape revered by people throughout the world, and also had unintended consequences.

    In recent years, there has been increased...

    (pp. 153-178)

    Historical ecology helps us learn the forgotten stories of the land, the local narratives that reveal how nature and people have shaped our surroundings. These obscure details and subtle revelations are embedded everywhere we go, but they are generally hidden from our temporally limited view. When we can see the world within a historical landscape context, though, a boring drive is suddenly much more interesting. Street signs, dips in the road, and previously unnoticed trees are part of a living, dynamic landscape, a slow-motion drama outside our windows. Within our familiar landscape, we can recognize ecological loss and human ingenuity,...

    (pp. 179-180)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 181-196)
    (pp. 197-214)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 215-223)