One of my favorite hikes here in Malibu has been infested with story poles, wooden standards bearing orange flags of doom. Sounds a tad hysterical, I know, but hear me out.
Story poles, in case you haven't seen them, are wooden forms topped with stretchy orange netting. They show the shape and height of a proposed building. What they don't show, can't show, are the concentric circles of disruption to come: an oak woodland scraped flat for a driveway, a brushy quail habitat turned into a lawn, a dirt trail paved into a road. The trail in this photo, in fact. It'll be gone in a year.
The outlines of eight McMansions popped up on this hillside over the summer. Apparently four more are working their way through plan-check in Malibu City Hall. It's not just how ugly it'll be, having another swath of back country paved over. It's the mortal wound the ecosystem will suffer. This is a place where you see bobcats and deer every week. There are coveys of quail in the sage and red-tailed hawks in the sky. Great horned owls hunt these hills, as do coyotes and even roadrunners. And now they're in real peril.
Each time you take away a chunk of open space, native animals vanish. Well, not vanish. Without enough room, they can't feed or breed or just plain live so they starve, or get hit by a car, or eat rodents who ate rat poison and then they bleed to death from even the slightest scratch or bruise. They get pushed out of the range that has sustained them for centuries and, if they can, move deeper into the mountains. Until the story poles find them again.
Still, it's the American way, building a new house. It's the American dream. Hell, housing starts, they're the economic engine by which we measure our prosperity. I'm a part of it. My own trailer, all sixteen hundred square feet of it, sits on a once-wild bluff planed smooth by tractors back in 1973. I would take it back if I could. Live in a little house in the city somewhere if it would mean my piece of Malibu could be wild again. But I can't so instead I post a photo and write this sentimental elegy and hope someone else understands.