Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mother Nature: Her Last Stand in Silicon Valley

     It's been a nice half year living here, but it's come time to close out, pack up the pile of fruit, and be headin' out. Since this past May I've been fortunate enough to call the second-oldest house in Mountain View my home...  The Abbott house was built in 1880, just four years after the Battle of Little Bighorn, eight years before the telephone, and ten before the close of the Indian Wars and the Massacre at Wounded Knee.
     From the attic room, you can look out on an acre and a half of a former walnut farm, the sixty or so trees standing tall as cathedrals, themselves, comprising one of the most wonderful natural settings still extant in this burgeoning suburb.
     And burgeon it will. The house, which was in the same family for over half a century in the name of the "Bakovitch house", after its former owner, the long-surviving daughter of a pioneer family which acquired it in the early 1910s, will be "relocated" on the property, angled catty-corner and set on new foundations.
    I moved here after the untimely passing of my best friend's brother's best friend. Kurt Kieffer was a guitarist making do as a carpenter for most of his life- as skilled a carpenter as he was a guitarist, and probably, himself, more attuned to his musical soul than his pragmatic woodworking. Kurt took on this house as the renovator and transformed it. After the death of Ann Bakovitch the land and the house fell into disrepair. The building had become a crack house and a haven for transients and squatters. Kurt and a couple of his friends came along and began to make interior and exterior renovations, completely transforming it. Even after he had been living there for half a year or more, he was still routing them from the walnut orchards. Two years later I was also pulling abandoned shopping carts out of the kudzu-like jungle which abutted the property.
    Originally, the Bakovitch family had possessed two to three times this acre and a half. The land which is now Landels School, directly behind the property, had been a part of their walnut farm, and they ceded that land to the city of Mountain View sometime in the early 1960s or 70's, I think. It's hard to imagine now but this entire area was once all walnuts. The Black Walnut trees which were grafted to English Walnut rootstock have now aged beyond their prime. While they still give some fruit, it's not of a commercial grade or quality. The many squirrels which call these trees their home have existed here for generations...
    And that's all about to end. Not only for the squirrels, but also a couple of raccoons, who make their home in a hollow trunk of a still-living tree, at least one possum, whose grey and black flecked body was, one recent morning, a reasonable facsimile of my roommate's cat's, and a wide variety of bird life, including at least thirty to fifty crows, numerous mourning doves, robins, woodpeckers, sparrows, finches, jays, and a pair of red-tail hawks. The crow population alone will engender fierce territorial battles amongst those of their species who have settled (in an "epidemic" fashion) the trees and the easements of the surrounding Old Mountain View neighborhood. But thoughts still will resound around the idea of all this displaced wildlife and the disrupted ecology.
     Most of these animals will be reduced to finding new habitat for themselves along the Stevens Creek corridor which abuts the Landels School property. This piece, which is, and will be up until this spring, the last large undeveloped patch of mother nature within residential zoning limits in the city of Mountain View, is scheduled to become 19 condominiums, with an underground parking garage, and the great majority of the standing trees will be cut down.
     Our friend Kurt, who played for a fusion jazz band out of Palo Alto called Expresso, put a lot of time, love, and energy into making this particular landmark house a valuable piece of real estate again. Last year, the anniversary of which is soon arriving, he passed away in his sleep of a coronary failure, leaving behind my current roommate (a lifelong friend and associate of his band- the band's official photographer- and besides his bandmates, at least a dozen other affected friends as well as a twenty year old daughter). Kurt's vibrations are still here in this house, and though it's soon to be wrenched from its foundation and placed closer to the street, it's going to be the bittersweet memory for a number of us for whom Kurt's ineffable and inimitable sense of humor and melody will be sorely missed and fondly remembered into the future. Perhaps is best he won't be here with us to witness the change... We are moving on, but he's quite beyond it all at this time. Here's a prayer for Rocky Raccoon.

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