seen in The Press Democrat...
"A fascinating look at the islands
all around us"
``The Islands of San Francisco
Bay'' (Down Window Press; $55), a newly published coffee-table-sized
book of uncommon beauty, is, in its conception,
much more than a fabulous collection of dramatic
nature scenery. With striking photographs by Marin County photojournalist
and rock climber James Martin -- who conceived and produced the
book with the help of Petaluma native and fellow
rock climber/photographer Michael Lee -- their collaborative effort
aims to capture the wildness of the island habitats
in the hope of boosting environmental awareness of San Francisco
Bay's unique island ecology.
Surprisingly, the bay islands,
48 in all, started out as hills. ``Fifteen thousand years ago the
islands of San Francisco Bay were
tall pyramids cloaked in green forests of cedar
and pine,'' writes San Francisco Chronicle
outdoor writer Paul McHugh, one of 10 writers
contributing essays to the new book. ``These hills jutted up from
a broad rumpled plain, where Pleistocene bison and horses wandered,
as well as camels and saber tooth tigers. Valleys between the hills
were threaded by glittering creeks and one mighty river.''
idea of huge, wild animals once roaming a plain
that is now the bay fascinated Martin. ``In essence,
my book is just everything I thought was interesting,'' he said
in a recent interview. Driven by passion, Martin traveled the globe
on photo assignments for magazines including Outside, National
Geographic, and Nature Conservancy. A die-hard rock climber, he
can be found clinging by his fingertips to something most weekends
-- indoors in the winter, outdoors in warm weather -- with Yosemite
a favorite haunt. He's also scaled every Bay Area
bridge, including combing the Golden Gate Bridge multiple times
-- a sport he gave up after 9/11. ``Because of a
barbed wire fence you can't even get to the bottom of the
Golden Gate now.''
The same unrelenting passion fueling
his love of rock
climbing drove Martin to create this book. The idea came to him
many years earlier but he didn't act on it until he was recovering
from a rock-climbing fall in 2000. While recuperating, he began
evaluating where his interests were taking him and recalled his
enjoyment photographing the Marin Islands 12 years
earlier. It hit him, then, that his own back yard -- the bay islands
-- could provide as much adventure as more exotic locales. He began
photographing them in 2001. Now, five years and 500 rolls of film
later, no other work has gathered in one place more information,
text and photos of the bay islands.
Martin focuses on island ecology
-- the birds, animals, plants and island topography. He challenged
himself to bring fresh insights and imagery to familiar tourist
destinations. ``I didn't want my book to look like all the others
you see in the Alcatraz bookstore about the prisoners that escaped,''
he said. So, readers learn about Alcatraz's unique environment
and its rebirth as home to wildlife.
``Alcatraz's deepest and most
vital secrets don't involve its notorious human past,'' writes
McHugh in an essay about the island. In fact,
the isle's aboriginal inhabitants are returning. ``Western gulls,
three species of cormorants, black-crowned night
herons, and even a pair of brave and persistent
black oystercatchers are enjoying a renaissance here.''
Martin's favorites is Brooks Island, which sits off the
shore near Richmond. ``It's the only island with
fresh spring water and Native Americans lived there continuously
for 3,000 years.'' The water is funneled from the East Bay hills
into an aquifer under the bay. Bing Crosby briefly
owned it for a duck hunting retreat. Litter from his clay pigeons
and shell casings remain to this day.
Another Martin favorite,
Station Island, formerly bustled with saloons,
hotels, brothels and gun clubs yet today is essentially a ghost
town with 24 empty cabins. One of its last residents,
``Shotgun Nellie,'' held out into the '70s. An old photo reveals
a dazzling young woman, in hip boots, ducks in one hand, a shotgun
in the other. ``She only left in 1974 when vandals passed through
her barbed wire fence and she had to fire off a couple rounds to
scare them away,'' writes essayist Jonah Owen Lamb.
So for those
who think island adventures always involve impossible
sums of money and long, cramped flights, here's
one book to rouse you out of your armchair and
into your car, canoe, kayak or commercial ferry to begin to explore
our own nearby island turf. Bring binoculars to
view the wildlife that helped inspire Martin to devote five years
creating a valuable resource and a book to treasure. ``Islands
of the San Francisco Bay''
is available locally. Or find it online at www.islandsofsfbay.com.
Sara Peyton is an Occidental free-lance
writer. E-mail her at email@example.com.