At Berryessa National Monument, Wildflowers and Rebirth

The fields give way to darkly arching oaks, tree tunnels shading a narrow country road outside Winters, Calif. The early-hour brightness indicates the nearness of summer.

Here, an hour and a half northeast of San Francisco, the dense press of civilization lifts, and the open wilderness weaves itself into the landscape. The light is somehow ventilated, given more space.

This is Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, one of our country’s newest national monuments. The knobby fullness of the surrounding hills resembles rising bread. Named for the craggy 7,056-foot peak at its northern end, the monument runs along a ridgeline that stretches south through seven counties to Blue Ridge. One writer called Berryessa’s outline a long, lumpy Christmas stocking.

What do we want from our wildlife areas? Something so remote we’ll never see it? Or something close enough, braided into our tangle of civilization, to remind us of all that exists alongside us in this world?

This year, 27 national monuments were made newly vulnerable to oil, gas and other resource extraction, placed under review by President Trump for what he deems as presidential overreach amounting to a “massive federal land grab.” But it’s important to note that these places were never meant to be walled off or untouchable. They’re meant to be explored.

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