Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 26, 2017

Signifying; Warning, This Is an Environment

This is one of a continuing series of posts about signs and what they tell us — which isn’t always exactly what they were intended to say.

Here in California, we have at least one excellent law: You can’t own the beach.

From San Ysidro, just this side of the Mexican border, to the Oregon border, just north of Pelican Beach 840 miles away, the edge of the ocean is public land.

Sometimes that public strip narrows to a thin boundary, with large cities and towns of every size crowding along it, but no one can (legally, at least), claim the beach for private use or exclude anyone from access, although there are plenty of rules about what you can and can’t do on particular beaches.

No animals Marcy Vincent 2010 (640x480)

I could easily devote some number of years here to writing and photographing ONLY the sights one finds along that enormous expanse of ocean. Those cities and towns have ports, harbors, highways, high rises and stretches of mansions. There are estuaries, wetlands, craggy cliffs, sand dunes, lighthouses and … an inexhaustible number of things.

In 8 years of blogging, I’ve scarcely touched on the coastline within a few miles of where I live. Here’s The Counselor on Ocean Trail, a favorite walk of ours.

Palos Verdes Trail Brad Nixon 8026 201111 (640x475)

This is the view from the north end of that trail.

Deserted Beach Brad Nixon 5480 (640x480)

The Pacific coast varies in an indescribable number of ways, north and south, as I said, not only the landforms but the flora and fauna differing enormously from one area to another. The coast looks entirely different 500 miles to the north on the edge of Redwood National Park.

N Cal coast Brad Nixon 7373 (640x480)

Any picture taken along the coast makes the same point: from Imperial Beach to Oceanside to Pismo Beach, San Simeon, Big Sur, Crescent City … they’re all fascinatingly different.

Many of the species that inhabit these coastal zones are extremely site-specific, and live nowhere else on earth. One example is butterflies. The Palos Verdes blue butterfly exists solely in the particular climate and vegetation of our immediate area. Rare? I’ve never seen one. 20 miles to the north, the range of the El Segundo blue butterfly is a similarly tiny stretch of duneland squeezed between a city, an oil refinery and one of the world’s busiest airports. Good luck, Blues.

There is, though, one constant and universal fact that applies to nearly every inch of our precious border of coast: It’s threatened. Erosion, development, pesticides, herbicides, wastewater, drought, flood and climate change challenge the survival of species and environments that depend on a precarious balance of conditions to survive there.

Therefore, among the signs admonishing you (and your pet) about what you may and may not do with regard to swimming, building fires, bicycling, skateboarding, hang gliding, smoking, consuming alcohol or whatever else, you see signs like this one along that coastal Ocean Trail of ours:

Environment sign Brad Nixon 8748 (640x480)

Got it. Great. Thanks for the warning.

I don’t typically write this much about a sign, but there’s something ironic about the fact that we have to warn humans away from a large portion of our protected public land. It’s not just true along Ocean Trail, but everywhere from the slopes of Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Washington’s Hoh Rainforest. We establish preserves, monuments and parks, construct roads, bridges and trails so that people can go there and delight in them, and then immediately start defining certain areas because, oops, it’d be okay if one or two people a year walked there, but not a thousand or ten thousand or — at the really popular places — a million.

We’re the problem. In the past year, as I’ve written about the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service, I’ve been thinking a lot about the culture of “nature” we’ve created. I consider it possible that the national parks and the notion of paving roads to and through them, accompanied by hiking trails, campsites, lodges and snack bars has caused all of us to forget something:

We’re always in nature, not just when we finally set foot on Bright Angel Trail to descend into the Grand Canyon.

We’re animals, after all. Although we’ve paved over and built on a lot of the “natural” world we live in every day, it’s still “in” nature. We never stop being animals; the world never stops being part of the natural world.

We forget that, and feel we must shift gears to go from “non-natural” to natural mode. Once there, we have to be told not to walk or ride our mountain bikes or ATVs through the world’s only existing Palos Verdes blue butterfly habitat.

Up go the signs and fences. We understand signs and fences. Our neighborhoods are full of them. What we ignore is that “nature” is something we’re part of all the time, not just when we put on the hiking shoes and stuff a couple of water bottles into the backpack before driving to the trailhead parking lot where we think the natural world starts.

This, I think, is the harbinger of one of the 2018 blog post themes. Not all the time, occasionally: What’s “natural,” and do we have to go somewhere special to experience it?

Happy hiking.

© Brad Nixon 2017. “Animals” sign © Marcy Vincent, used by kind permission.


  1. Read your work, children, before you turn it in. 👀


  2. This has been a hard lesson for me to begin learning, but learning, I am. When I began carrying a camera, I often envied those who were traveling to this or that place: to the spectacular leaves, or the waterfalls, or the deserts, or…

    I still fall into envy from time to time, but I’ve learned that there are delights much closer to home: delights I don’t have to fight crowds to see.

    Your post reminded me of some wonderful words from Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz: “I spent the summer traveling. I got halfway across my back yard.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I envy the travelers who’ve been to Tajikistan and seen the pyramids (of many countries). Maybe I’ll get there. Some of them, though, should envy your ability to find the remarkable in what’s nearby. Carry on.


  3. I love the post
    Check out my environmental blog

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent pictures. I visited a beautiful natural area on Lake Ontario a few years ago and the great lake sand dunes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, some dunes I’ve missed. I’m not familiar with them. I’ll look into it. Thanks.


  5. Ohu wau…. keep going

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cute pics and blog! Would love for you to check out my posts! On fashion and beauty😍😘 all unique and cleverly though out items🌷


  7. Wow! I really like what your area is doing in order to protect the environment, and therein protect ourselves. Where in California? Thank you for the information as well in order to promote environmentally safe places. If you’d like check out my recent poetry on the environment,


    • Thank you. On your map, look due south of downtown Los Angeles until you get to the ocean. To the left is the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the location of that trail. There are a significant number of nature preserves along the coast there, with plenty of interesting hiking, great views and wildlife. Like oceanside environments worldwide, there are highly specialized species of plants and insects, though no rare birds or animals I’m aware of locally. It’s not wild land. The peninsula was range, then some farming going well back until residential development began in the 1920s. Now most development has been constrained, and the preserves attempt to conserve some of the native species and offer great recreation to humans. It’s nothing on the scale of your Olympic coast, but reflects the continuing concern every reasonable person has about keeping some portion of the world unpaved, undeveloped. I look forward to reading your blog.


  8. Thank you for this post, really enjoyed reading. In our quest for progress, we so often forget that we are part of nature. Maybe if we thought of ourselves as part of the natural world a little more, there wouldn’t be such need for environmental protection, or signage!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I think there’s a degree to which the notion of visiting nature preserves and protected natural spaces reinforces the notion that “nature” is only found in specific places. Preserving natural areas is critically important, but it also implies that drilling, mining, logging, ranching and paving right up to the borders of the national parks is fine, because those areas aren’t “nature.” An idea I want to explore further, regarding our attitudes to being animals, and not some distinct line of creatures connected to the world.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I completely agree. The level of disconnect is worrying. I’m from the UK, not sure there is a landscape on our little rock that is unshaped by man – there has been an ongoing debate here for many years about “re-wilding” and reintroducing species previously hunted to extinction. This is focused on certain areas (generally within our national parks) – perhaps missing the point about what it means to be wild entirely.


      • Within the hour, I read a blog post about a hike in the Scottish highlands, where a wolf re-introduction program is being considered, and nesting golden eagles are being protected. I would say that these are essential and right to pursue in truly wild, protected areas. The biologists, etc. pursuing those programs require highly specialized conditions. It’s probably up to us in the grassroots of environmentalism to help convey the notion that, yes, national parks are for everyone, but we’re still part of nature when we’re NOT there. The writer Edward Abbey was, essentially, opposed to national parks with paved access roads, nicely groomed hiking trails, snack bars and interpretive displays, for some of the reasons we’re discussing. On the other hand, HE wanted to be able to hike out there, build roaring campfires, toss beer cans into the canyons (which he does incessantly!) at will, without ALL THOSE DAMNED TOURISTS. That’s no help. Extending awareness is the goal, and I have to start with my own. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. […] kept up with articles about re-introducing wolves, I decided (triggered largely as a result of this post by Under Western Skies) to research more and re-evaluate my passive, sort-of interest and it has […]


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