A view of Bennet Valley from Sonoma Mountain
Kieffer Katz

Kieffer Katz

Where the World Begins: See and Feel Sonoma Mountain

Most of the spectacular panoramas in Arthur Dawson’s new book, Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images, are taken from the top. That’s because, as described by the author, Sonoma Mountain itself is more of a mighty ridge than a sharp peak. That means it’s harder to photograph than its siblings Mount Tamalpais, Diablo, and Saint Helena.

That doesn’t make the images in his new book any less stunning. The high-quality, heartfelt tribute to the mountain was just published by its namesake non-profit, Sonoma Mountain Preservation.

When you climb through woodlands and wildflowers to Sonoma Mountain’s high point at 2,463 feet, as I have done many times, you’ll need to catch your breath. As you recover, you’ll gaze in all directions over range and valley, vineyards and cities, and even the ocean. The views and the elation are both fully captured in this compelling and approachable coffee table book.

Sonoma Mountain stretches from Santa Rosa in the north to San Pablo Bay in the south. It separates Sonoma Valley on its east flank from Petaluma—where the storms come in and the sun sets—on its west. You can see its rolling mountainscape when driving Highway 12 or Highway 101.  

A historical ecologist who has lived in Glen Ellen at the foot of Sonoma Mountain for decades, Dawson is almost describing himself when he talks about the mountain. Quiet and reserved, and also brilliant and visionary, he delves deep into the indigenous, natural, and modern ways and wonders of Sonoma Mountain.

He explains that “the mountain likes to play tricks on us. It sits right in the middle of hundreds of thousands of people and most of them pay it no mind, in fact couldn’t point to it. Sonoma Mountain is not your classic sharp peak. Maybe that’s the point. It’s a mountain without ego.”

Dawson and his co-authors Meg Beeler, Rebecca Lawton and Tracy Salcedo all have deep roots in Sonoma County.  In the book, they invite you to learn about Sonoma Mountain’s flora and fauna, read the stories of the Coast Miwok and Jack London, and explore the trails on foot. And they ask for more: They want you to feel the mountain.

I definitely felt the mountain as soon as I opened Where the World Begins. I have known the mountain for 30 years. I’ve looked up at blue sky above a horizon of oak green and golden grass and watched waves of fog breaking over the mountain’s swell. I’ve hiked the trails and read the maps. Now, finally, there is a book that brings all of this home to all.

I also feel the mountain in the book because of the people. I know most of the contributors, all people who share strong connections to land and the mountain. Arthur and I even share the same birthday, Jan. 22!

Photographer Ed Cooper, who lives on Sonoma Mountain, is also a friend. The stories from Wendy Eliot, Richard Dale, and other local conservation leaders make it ever more personal, almost like a mountain diary.

These tales from past mountain dwellers and homesteaders add depth and context. The artistic maps that join them are easy to read, helping explain and enhance the text and photos as you go from page to page.

The non-profit Sonoma Mountain Preservation published this book as a culmination of decades of devotion to the remarkable peak. It all started with the late Pat Eliot and her friend Mickey Cooke standing up for its protection, both of whom rode horseback freely up and down the mountain before so many private drives and gates and fencing. They joined with other conservationists to win special county development guidelines and preserve much of the mountain as permanent open space. Their work is still underway.

The book was conceived during the last drought, birthed in the aftermath of the October 2017 North Bay fires, when Dawson lost his home, and finally delivered this winter just when Sonoma Mountain got everyone’s attention with a rare cover of snow.

Whether you live in Sonoma County or just adore it, you’ll become more intimate with its heart and soul while reading Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images. You can order it directly from Sonoma Mountain Preservation.

There will be multiple launch parties for the Sonoma Mountain Book in the next two months. The Santa Rosa launch will be March 7, 2019 at the Finley Community Center Auditorium, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. This will be followed on April 3, 2019, by a launch at Vintage House in the City of Sonoma, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. You can see more details and register for the Santa Rosa launch here.

Join us for a celebration of Sonoma Mountain by exploring photographs, writings, and maps of this natural treasure. Master storyteller and author Arthur Dawson will read from the newly released book Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images. Other contributors who know and love the mountain will share stories. Books will be available for pickup and purchase.

Want to get more up close and personal with Sonoma Mountain? Join Sonoma Mountain Preserveration Land Paths for an overnight adventure on April 13 and 14.

I’ll see you on the mountain.

Photo: Matkatamiba via Wikimedia Commons

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