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Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources

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John Muir was an early proponent of a view we still hold today—that much of California was pristine, untouched wilderness before the arrival of Europeans. But as this groundbreaking book demonstrates, what Muir was really seeing when he admired the grand vistas of Yosemite and the gold and purple flowers carpeting the Central Valley were the fertile gardens of the Sierra Miwok and Valley Yokuts Indians, modified and made productive by centuries of harvesting, tilling, sowing, pruning, and burning. Marvelously detailed and beautifully written, Tending the Wild is an unparalleled examination of Native American knowledge and uses of California's natural resources that reshapes our understanding of native cultures and shows how we might begin to use their knowledge in our own conservation efforts.

M. Kat Anderson presents a wealth of information on native land management practices gleaned in part from interviews and correspondence with Native Americans who recall what their grandparents told them about how and when areas were burned, which plants were eaten and which were used for basketry, and how plants were tended. The complex picture that emerges from this and other historical source material dispels the hunter-gatherer stereotype long perpetuated in anthropological and historical literature. We come to see California's indigenous people as active agents of environmental change and stewardship. Tending the Wild persuasively argues that this traditional ecological knowledge is essential if we are to successfully meet the challenge of living sustainably.

555 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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M. Kat Anderson

2 books7 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 46 reviews
Profile Image for Fleece.
146 reviews4 followers
June 30, 2014
LITERALLY AMAZING. destroys both anthropological and ecologic assumptions about native californians and their role in the landscape, that is, CA was NOT a pristine wilderness (and as much as i like muir: SUCK IT, muir), much of the abundance and beautiful structure of the plant communities resulted from indigenous expert care and knowledge! book deconstructs white/western concept of wilderness and integrates native californian history + current concerns w/environmental problems. CREDITS NATIVE PEOPLE WHO WERE SOURCES OF INFORMATION!!!!! (which is super important in this context because a lot of native knowledge is disregarded- columbusing eh?)

basically i'm pissed this wasn't required reading for like all my major's classes. not even ethnobotany came close!!
Profile Image for Richard Reese.
Author 3 books154 followers
March 23, 2015
“Nature really misses us,” laments M. Kat Anderson. “We no longer have a relationship with plants and animals, and that’s the reason why they’re going away.” Anderson is the author of Tending the Wild, in which she describes the relationships that California Indians have with the plants and animals, the rocks and streams, the sacred land which is their ancient home. It’s an essential book for pilgrims who strive to envision the long and rugged path back home to wildness, freedom, and sustainability.

In medieval Europe, hungry dirty peasant farmers succeeded in painstakingly perfecting a miserable, laborious, backbreaking form of agriculture that depleted the soil, and produced minimal yields with erratic inconsistency. They were malnourished, unhealthy, and most of them died young — whilst the lords and ladies, who claimed to own the land, wallowed in a rich sludge of glitter and gluttony.

When European explorers arrived in California, they discovered half-naked heathen barbarians who were exceedingly healthy, and enjoyed an abundance of nourishing wild foods that they acquired without sweat or toil. Clearly, these savages were people who suffered from a lack of civilization’s elevated refinements: agriculture, smallpox, uncomfortable ugly clothing, brutal enslavement, and religious enlightenment from priests who preached the virtues of love, but practiced exploitive racist cruelty.

In 1868, Titus Fey Cronise wrote that when whites arrived, the land of California was “filled with elk, deer, hares, rabbits, quail, and other animals fit for food; the rivers and lakes swarming with salmon, trout, and other fish, their beds and banks covered with mussels, clams, and other edible mollusca; the rocks on its sea shores crowded with seal and otter; and its forests full of trees and plants, bearing acorns, nuts, seeds, and berries.”

The greed-crazed Europeans went absolutely berserk, rapidly destroying whatever could be converted into money: forests, waterfowl, whales, deer, elk, salmon, gold nuggets. Grizzly bear meat was offered at most restaurants. There were fortunes to be made, the supply of valuable resources was “inexhaustible,” and the foolish Indians were so lazy that they let all of this wealth go to waste.

There were 500 to 600 different tribes in California, speaking many different languages. In North America, the population density of California Indians was second only to the Aztec capitol of Mexico City. They lived quite successfully by hunting, fishing, and foraging — without domesticated plants or animals, without plowing or herding, without fortified cities, authoritarian rulers, perpetual warfare, horrid sanitation, or epidemics of contagious disease. The Indians found the Europeans to be incredibly peculiar. The Pit River people called them enellaaduwi — wanderers — homeless people with no attachment to the land or its creatures.

The bulk of Tending the Wild describes how the California Indians tended the land. They did not merely wander across the countryside in hopes of randomly discovering plant and animal foods. They had an intimate, sacred relationship with the land, and they tended it in order to encourage the health of their closest relatives — the plant and animal communities upon which they depended.

Fires were periodically set to clear away brush, promote the growth of grasses and herbs, and increase the numbers of larger game animals. Burning significantly altered the ecosystem on a massive scale, but it didn’t lead to the creation of barren wastelands over time, like agriculture continues to do, at an ever-accelerating rate. California has a long dry season, and wildfires sparked by lightening are a normal occurrence in this ecosystem.

Nuts, grains, and seeds are a very useful source of food. They’re rich in oils, calories, and protein. They can be stored for long periods, enabling survival through lean seasons and lean years. The quantity of acorns foraged each year was not regular and dependable, but many were gathered in years of abundance. A diverse variety of wildflowers and grasses can provide a dependable supply of seeds and grains.

The Indians tended the growth of important plants in a number of ways — pruning, weeding, burning, watering, replanting bulbs, sowing seeds. Communities of cherished plants were deliberately expanded. The Indians were blessed with a complete lack of advanced Old World technology. They luckily had no draft animals or plows, so their soil-disturbing activities were mostly limited to digging bulbs, corms, and tubers, and planting small tobacco gardens.

Today, countless ecosystems are being ravaged by agriculture. A few visionaries, like Wes Jackson at the Land Institute, are working to develop a far less destructive mode of farming, based on mechanically harvesting the grain from perennial plants. This research is a slow process, and success is not expected any time soon.

California Indians developed a brilliant, time-proven, sustainable system for producing seeds and grain without degrading the ecosystem. So did the wild rice gatherers of the Great Lakes region. They built no cities, and they did not suffer from the misery and monotony of civilization. They had no powerful leaders, ruling classes, or legions of exploited slaves. They were not warlike societies. Their ecosystems were clean and healthy. They lived like real human beings — wild, free, and happy.

Tending the Wild is an important book. It presents us with stories of a way of life that worked, and worked remarkably well. This is precious knowledge for us to contemplate, as our own society is rapidly circling the drain, and our need for remembering healthy old ideas has never been greater.

Profile Image for Tom Lichtenberg.
Author 78 books73 followers
December 19, 2013
I live in coastal central California, in a relatively rural environment. I often like to imagine what it was like before the arrival of Europeans. The usual history tells of small nomadic primitive savages living off the land, basically as scavengers. Sure, they could make a mean waterproof basket, but otherwise there is nothing much to say about these people. And very little is said about the landscape or ecology of the area. It is what it is, redwoods and oaks and such. This book tells a very different story, of populous, settled societies tending the land while enjoying a culture of abundance for hundreds of years. The sheer number of animals was stunning to the first Europeans, birds in the millions, deer and antelope in the hundreds of thousands, bears and lions and the rivers so thick with salmon that men on horseback could not cross. Those Europeans came from a culture of poverty and vast inequality, and quickly established the same sort of society here. We all take it for granted. Like them we can hardly imagine the opposite. it is true that a culture of struggle and hardship produced our modern civilization with all of its inventions and science, but at the price that for most people, life is hard and there is no end to unfairness and violence. We have only been here for a short time. My grandfather's grandfather's grandfather was around when the Spanish began to enslave the native residents here. it is estimated that their cultures here remained in equilibrium for a hundred times as many generations back. I am always enchanted to see a flock of quail scurrying about. This book informs me that less than two hundred years ago, such a flock would have numbered in the millions, that this region has been so vastly redone that my attempts at imagining it are futile.
Profile Image for Tao.
Author 47 books2,108 followers
October 8, 2019
-"...the foundation of this book—indigenous people's stewardship of the land carries important lessons for us in the modern world..."
-"There were no clear-cut distinction between hunter-gatherers—the category into which most California Indians had been tossed—and the more "advanced" agricultural peoples of the ancient world."
-"Through twelve thousand or more years of existence in what is now California, humans knit themselves to nature through their vast knowledge base and practical experience." (2)
-"The word for wilderness is absent from many tribal vocabularies, as is the word for civilization." (3)
-"California Indians have never advocated leaving nature alone." (6)
-"Much of what we consider wilderness today was in fact shaped by Indian burning, harvesting, tilling, pruning, sowing, and tending." (8)
-"One-third of the state's 6,300 native plant species are endemics and grow nowhere else on earth." (13)
-"In 1542 one hundred languages resonated across California's myriad landscapes—one quarter of the 418 native languages that existed within the borders of the present-day United States." (14)
-"Excluding desert and high-elevation areas, it was almost impossible for early Euro-American explorers to go more than a few miles without encountering indigenous people." (34)
-"Estimates of California's total population vary from 133,000 to 705,000; about 310,000 is the most widely accepted number." (34)
-"Alfred Kroeber listed between five and six hundred tribes as the number of sociopolitical groups that were autonomous and self-governing and encompassed a cluster of two or more separate villages led by a chief." (35)
-"The great linguistic diversity reflects the termendous length of time people have been here." (37)
-"California had been peopled for at least 12,000 to 13,500 years when European settlement began." (37)
-"Migration stories are absent from the lore of many tribes." (37)
-"The Sierra Miwok, for example, relied on nearly 160 plant species for food and more than 110 plant species for medicines." (42)
-"In aboriginal California, women were the ethnobotanists, testing, selecting, and tending much of the plant world, and men were the ethnozoologists, applying their intimate knowledge of animal behavior to skillful hunting." (41)
-"The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) alleviated Yuka toothaches, fed Sierra Miwok stomachs, healed Wintu newborn babies' navels, and induced sleep among the Ohlone." (42)
-"Many of the 66 species of freshwater fishes, 46 amphibians, 96 reptiles, 563 birds, and 190 mammals that inhabited California were incorporated into the ethnozoologies of the tribes." (45)
-"A great variety of insects—grasshoppers, cicadas, ants, flies, crickets—were used for food and other items." (47)
-"While gathering or hunting, people all over California followed two overarching rules: Leave some of what is gathered for the other animals and Do not waste what you have harvested." (55)
-"From 1769 to 1890 the population plummeted from approximately 310,000 to 17,000." (64)
-1542: Spanish became first non-Indians on Alta California." (65)
-1769: First permanent European colony, Spanish, in Alta California. (72)
-"Though initially some indigenous people willingly joined the mission system, by 1787, recruitment was sometimes forced." (72)
-"Disobedient Indians were whipped with a barbed lash, subjected to solitary confinement, mutilated, locked in stocks and hobbles, branded, and sometimes executed." (75)
-"With the acquisition of horses from the colonists, these Indians changed from peaceful, sedentary, localized groups to semiwarlike, seminomadic groups." (82)
85 reviews13 followers
April 4, 2008
This book just blew me away. That the breathtaking landscape seen and commented on by such luminaries as John Muir was not, as he and many others thought, a pristinely untouched place, but a managed ecosystem (by the native peoples) is a one the exciting discoveries of my life. It weaves in with the biology and ecology of the native peoples plant community management a history of the atrocities and injustices done to the Indians of California which for me was a message that the place is tragically poorer for the loss and neglect of what the tribes of California knew about maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The amount of plant knowledge that had to be compiled and how well it is conveyed is incredible.
Profile Image for Dave.
256 reviews32 followers
January 26, 2021
Almost a great book. It does a good job explaining indigenous land management techniques and shows that hunting and gathering was much more sophisticated than most people assume. Rather than just wandering around and opportunistically snatching up any resource they happened to stumble upon, the people of California had very carefully worked to maintain a landscape that was more productive and less prone to catastrophic wildfires. By systematically burning the landscape at key times they were able to keep dangerous fuel loads from building up, prevent insect pests and fungal plant diseases from destroying their acorn harvests, produce healthier grass for the grazing animals they hunted and promote straighter growth of basketry and other building material. It also does a pretty good job explaining why this history is relevant to modern ecosystem restoration, park management and farming. It's one of those rare types of anthropology books that focuses almost entirely on things that matter, as opposed to so many others that waste your time mainly with the most provocative elements of the cultures or the author's personal adventure stories. Books like this that describe the history of local ecosystems and how indigenous people lived there really should be required reading for all high school kids. For California, I would guess that this is one of the better ones (since I'm from the northeast I have more interest in that bioregion and still haven't found any that really impress me yet, even though I've been interested in this subject for a long time).

That said, it still lacks detail in many areas. The main problem is that it's just not well organized at all, which makes the writing way too repetitive. This is something I complain about with a lot of books, especially environmental books that should be concerned about wasting paper, but this really is about as bad as it gets in that regard, and there's so much more that should have been discussed in here. Some of the info seems a little outdated as well. Her estimates about population are definitely on the low side. Even though she's trying to show that this region had some of the highest population densities of any hunter gatherer groups, she uses 1.5 per square mile as evidence of this. That's really not that high though, especially for coastal areas. The Chumash, which is actually a California tribe, are now thought to have been over 20 per square mile. And it also seems likely to me that more tribes were growing maize than she suggests. Considering that maize comes from central America and was already being grown in upstate New York 1,000 years ago I'm pretty skeptical that more indigenous Californians weren't growing it. If they were then the population of California would be way higher than she says. It's okay for a book like this not to have detailed explanations of sustainable farming since it's more about hunter gatherer land management but I'm not sure that the impression this leaves readers with is totally accurate. This is a pretty minor complaint though. As for the repetition, it definitely pisses me off but there still is enough good information in here for me to recommend reading this one. It's a very interesting and important subject that most people don't know much about.
Profile Image for Angela Dawn.
22 reviews25 followers
May 6, 2007
A groundbreaking work (if you can forgive the pun) that will strongly influence, and potentially profoundly change, the way we view nature, the subtle sophistication of the Native Americans, the importance of their knowledge in our own struggle to preserve our natural resources and heritage, and the horrific tragedy of genocide perpetrated against them by those who considered themselves "superior and advanced", but who were actually too arrogant, ignorant, unsophisticated, greedy, and brutal to recognize all they could have learned. The very attitudes that have brought our beautiful home planet to the brink of destruction.
This book is a primer of mindful environmentalism, responsible stewardship, and the humble recognition of our rightful and honest place in the world of living creatures.
For myself, it reminded me poignantly of what I have long believed, that the destruction and loss of tribal cultures was the harbinger of the environmental catastrophe we now face.
It can be said of Homo Sapiens, as much as of any species we have endangered or extincted,
"What right have we to drive these miracles off the Earth"
May we learn the lessons they have to teach us before
it's too late

Profile Image for Isaac Jensen.
191 reviews1 follower
March 6, 2023
This books is superlative. An excellent synthesis of what we know of the traditional stewardship practices of the indigenous people of California, it dives deeply into ethnology and ecology while still feeling compulsively readable. I’m thinking a lot these days about how to teach my students about genocide and colonialism and the way these historical forces effects on the landscapes we see here today, and this book offers a lot of food for thought. It’s also has me thinking about how we think about the baselines against which conservation and restoration initiatives are measured, and has made me realize that really sitting with the long history of human impacts on the natural world frees us from the binary of human and nature. I’m really excited about this book; and anyone who lives in or spends time in California should read it.
8 reviews
January 1, 2018
This is one of the best books ever written. This is about more than anthropology, ethnobotany, and ecology. This is about a lifeway that sustained our ancestors for thousands of years, not just in California but across the world. Tending the Wild reveals what native peoples have long known, and what most of the colonized world has forgotten. While M. Kat Anderson never quite spells it out, her well-researched study still effectively illustrates the point that living an empathetic existence with the natural world leads to deep symbiosis. M. Kat Anderson describes how California Native Americans managed their ecosystems not only to provide for their nourishment, but at the same time to regenerate, and grow with even more abundance in the following years. This is counter-intuitive to the civilized point of view which is object-oriented and extraction-oriented. Many of us in the developed world have forgotten that relationship-oriented, reciprocal lifeway which holds the origins of all of us. Tending the Wild also indirectly dispels of the commonplace myth of hunter-gatherers living a hand-to-mouth existence without footprint on the land.
Profile Image for Dayna.
415 reviews4 followers
June 17, 2022
I skimmed over the parts of this I was less interested in, but overall found it an enjoyable and enlightening read. My take away is that the America that Europeans saw when they arrived was not an untamed wilderness, as depicted by them. The Native Americans had been tending it for tens of thousands of years, living off its bounty. This long relationship with the land created managed landscapes and a respect for the natural world. The other key point the author made was that treating nature as only something to be exploited or something to be completely left alone are opposite sides of the same coin. The middle ground - the one that the Native Americans had for thousands of years - is the one that is the most productive for both nature and for humans.
Profile Image for Susan.
466 reviews7 followers
July 19, 2018
This may be the most solarpunk book I've ever read though, of course, this book was written far earlier. A fascinating look at what constitutes ethnobotany, kind of text book in terms of writing. There were bits in the middle (especially with the burning practices) that grew to be a little redundant, but overall, very informative.
Profile Image for Nathan Zorndorf.
56 reviews13 followers
September 2, 2020
The book is divided into 3 parts:
1. History of Californian natives
2. Native land management strategies and methods
3. How to incorporate indigenous knowledge, practices, and cultural values into modern society

My takeaways were:
- Californian natives were treated terribly and their populations decimated by three distinct waves of settlers (missionaries, rancheros, and miners).

- The ecosystem of California was radically altered through these three waves, over the the last 300-400 years, as a result of farming, ranching, and mining operations introduced by the Mexicans and Americans in the 18th and 19th century, in ways that decimated local populations of native plants and wild-life, and have threatened the long-term stability of the land and it's capacity to support life in a sustainable way.

- The myth that Native Californians were passive beneficiaries and simple users of California's abundant plant and wildlife is incorrect - indigenous people were actively involved in modifying and shaping their ecosystems, like western settlers were. However, unlike western settlers, they managed the land in a way that supported the populations of flora and fauna, as well as themselves.

- Their land use practices and associated plant and animal knowledge were compiled by generations of natives carefully observing and experimenting with practices such as foraging techniques, use of fire, genetic engineering, and the production of tools, among others.

- Native cultures embodied a relationship to the land that was based on a view that animals, plants, and even inanimate objects like rocks were their direct kin, and as such, could be directly learned from and should be treated with respect just as they would their human relatives. This worldview permeated their culture in the form of myths, music, ceremonies, and rituals, such as saying a prayer of thanks before harvesting a particular rhizomes that would be used to make a basket.

- The Native's relationship can be viewed as a middle way between two extremes that our contemporary society seems to have come to view the land and nature through - as something to be isolated and used without regards to the broader ecosystem it supports, or something to be preserved in an un-touched, "natural" form, as with national parks, where the relationship between people and the land is usually quite limited.

It's interesting to be reading this as a new round of fires are burning across California right now - fires that perhaps could have been prevented if the land management practices used by native californians were still being practiced today on a wide scale. Luckily, it does appear that the National Forest Service and the National Parks Service are recognizing the utility of the original indigenous land use practices, and are starting to work with them. Hopefully we can translate the ethnic knowledge of the original californian people into the language of our modern day world of machines, automation, and capital so that generations can continue to enjoy this beautiful state (and world) indefinitely.
Profile Image for Max Carmichael.
Author 4 books9 followers
March 2, 2019
Clearly a labor of academic love, Anderson's paradigm-shifting book may have sparked a quiet revolution among a tiny minority of its readers, but its revelations continue to be overlooked by the majority of biologists and anthropologists, who have too much of their careers and identities invested in the fallacies they were taught in school.

While working independently toward some of Anderson's myriad observations, I glimpsed this book on the shelves of friends time and again, knowing I'd have to tackle it some day. Reading and absorbing it is a project in itself!

My one criticism is that, knowing the close scrutiny her work would receive from academic colleagues, Anderson undermines its impact by relying too much on some Western paradigms that her work clearly invalidates. She mentions once or twice that the Western concept of "resource management" reflects an alienated relationship with natural habitats, yet she uses the term "management" overwhelmingly to describe native practices. And her constant labeling of her subjects as "Californian" - a post-contact Euro-American political entity which is completely irrelevant to the natural contexts and social networks in which natives identified themselves - undermines the universal relevance of her observations.

In a perfect world, Tending the Wild would just be the beginning of a universal re-grounding of our dominant society in its natural context. Studies in ecology and anthropology from across the planet would be compiled and summarized in similar forms. The fallacies of civilized superiority, linear time and the "Anthropocene," hunter-gatherers and the Paleo Diet, the blaming of Pleistocene extinctions on Native Americans, the importance of the "Agricultural Revolution," and human exceptionalism would finally be put to rest. Humans in dominant societies would finally recognize themselves as animals, equal partners in natural ecosystems in which other life forms have much to teach us, no species is wiser or more knowledgeable than the others, and all are humbled by the Great Mysteries.
Profile Image for David Martínez.
28 reviews6 followers
April 20, 2022
Is ecological restoration possible without the participation of Indigenous peoples? Kat Anderson argues persuasively that the answer is unequivocally no. Behind the layers of economic and natural resource development that California has been through since the arrival of the Spanish, what generations of settlers, including Americans, may not appreciate is the fact that the land that they have expropriated from Indigenous nations in the name of Progress was first transformed by Indigenous people, such that its restoration into healthier ecological systems requires Indigenous knowledge. Indeed the bulk of the book consists of chapter after chapter demonstrating the ways in which different types of plants, be they trees, shrubs, or grasses were cultivated to meet the needs of the people who tended them for food, utensils, medicine, clothing, and housing. Indeed, many of the plants that thrived under Indigenous care did so because of the cultivating practices that were an integral part of Indigenous peoples' relationship with the land. This is a knowledge tradition--call it science--that Anderson argues is needed today in California if it is to withstand the long-term effects of over-development, species decline, and climate change. While it is not always clear how a sustainable Indigenous economy can coexist with a surplus economy--a transubstantiation of values may be necessary--Anderson asserts that one has to try and that Indigenous people, a vibrant part of California today, needs to be a prominent part of this effort. Ecological restoration may not be possible without Indigenous cultural revitalization. In a sense, California needs to give the land back to Indigenous peoples. The implications of this may, unfortunately, be lost in the Anderson's predilection for a land management discourse based on mainstream ecological concepts, such as stewardship, as opposed to an Indigenous regard for plants as people, living beings that require a respect relationship with humans. Plants are not more than a natural resource, they are also teachers.
Profile Image for John.
270 reviews17 followers
April 2, 2022
This book is beloved, and deservedly so. After reading it, you will be persuaded that Native American people managed California with agronomic practices so advanced as to be illegible as agronomic practices at all to the outside observer, with results that were indistinguishable from a particularly lush and plentiful natural setting, and heartbreaking consequences in mismanagement that are only starting to be overcome (or tragically coming due with widespread wildfire).

It's a nearly perfect book: from introduction to conclusion, the concepts are revelatory, the tones are right, the sequencing is sensible, the writing is clear, the material is covered accessibly, and the coverage is comprehensive. It is only marred by a massive organizational flaw: in the middle section, encompassing most of the book, practices themselves are described again and again.

This repetition stems from uses or plants being gathered by topic, then each plant is covered, it's uses are coverage, how it is was managed to obtain those uses are covered, and then evidence from interviews and historical records are used to document those practices for that plant. The problem is that the management of these plants and the rationale behind them are largely the same from plant-to-plant and use-to-use. The writing was still exceedingly pleasant, and I would use it to fall happily asleep.

My advice: read from the intro all the way through the first part, then the first two chapters of the second part, and then from part three to the end. Then, skim what was skipped, diving in as interested. Table 5 in chapter 7, on the difference in yield density between Native American management and as found in the wild, is particularly striking.

Profile Image for Krystal Rains.
14 reviews2 followers
October 11, 2022
This is a dense read! With over an inch of pages that are footnotes/references, it took me some time to get through it, but it was worth every moment and every page.

After writing her master's thesis on California Indigenous People's Traditional Ecological Knowledge to care and maintain this beautiful state for thousands of years, readers encouraged her to write a book for the general public. Most of her references were elders in the community or part of the extensive library of Indigenous history and knowledge locked up in Berkeley's vast archives.

As I read and learned how all parts of their lives revolved around the interactions with the flora. The way they focused on creating the best materials for basket making, which in turn was used for food gathering and storage, which required continual practice in weaving and managing as they did a circuit of the lands they cared for and harvesting enough to feed their communities.

It is truly terrifying to realize how deep the devastation of this land, western civilization has caused not only by removing, relocating and killing of these communities, but in the land management practices that have created devastating fuel driven fires across our state.

This is an important read for all members of California communities.
Profile Image for Damian.
106 reviews1 follower
May 23, 2021
Dense book. What stood out to me: acorns were found in 10,000 yr old pits and extensive cultivation evidence from a couple thousand years ago. Shell mounds in emeryville apparently show Bay Area Indians more reliant on acorns as game was relatively more scarce by the time of white contact. Not clear if this is contradictory.

Burning: everywhere and often. The garden that was CA was a cultivated garden rather than naturally occurring that way.

Grizzlies apparently liked acorns too- would climb and grab a branch and fall with it to the ground. Indians would harvest as well before they fall. In famine, would raid acorn woodpecker stashes.

Prevalence of sugar pine the result of lots of burning to favor that species in white fir dominated areas.

Some important trees would be coated with dirt and raked at the bottom to discourage burning.

Forests were likely much more filled with grass and meadow areas to support grazing but lack of fire and overgrazing made a mess of that.

Acorns and salt were the primary currency.

Fremont met Indians and they always had pine nuts to barter/offer.
Profile Image for Lisa.
53 reviews2 followers
June 22, 2020
With thorough research and a slowly built argument, Anderson presents a case for an entire paradigm shift that inverts traditional interpretations of history in the Western US and an American understanding of nature. The text is gentle in its assertions and at times exhaustive in establishing its points, but the ideas are no less startling and brilliant. She presents a compelling case that the rich biodiversity of the state of California was, in fact, due to regular, mild disturbances such as fire and management by Native Americans, to maintain desired habitats. Yosemite was not wild, but maintained. With a dense population of an estimated 900,000 Native Americans across the state at the peak, this protoagriculture impacted the flora over centuries and created a mutual coexistence. She infers that the absence of human interference has, in fact, caused much of the decline in biodiversity in California over the past several decades. A thought provoking read.
July 4, 2019
Documents the incredible number of different ways that California natives managed lands below about 6000 feet in California. Fire was one of the chief management tools, but there were literally dozens of ways in which it was used. Some are obvious--clearing brush to keep larger conflagrations from happening--but others are not: such as burning the litter beneath oak trees so that the acorns can be harvested without being damaged but the various insects and other creatures that would live n the litter and that would otherwise consume the acorns. Another good one--burning certain species of willows down to the trunk: when the shoots come back the next year, they are longer and straighter and better suited to be arrow shafts.
Profile Image for Vanessa Ricci-Thode.
Author 7 books58 followers
February 29, 2020
This is a great book full of fascinating history and valuable information on traditional ecological knowledge than can help combat the destruction we've wrought on this planet. Got super repetitive in places, but maybe that's an academic thing? I don't read a lot of academic work. But I thoroughly enjoyed this.
Profile Image for Laura Alice Watt.
206 reviews4 followers
January 5, 2020
Absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in land management in California, or really anywhere in the U.S., as indigenous peoples had enormous influence on many places we now consider "natural."
Profile Image for Nicole.
171 reviews
March 27, 2020
An important and true idea about how indigenous humans were key players in healthy, productive, and balanced “wild” landscapes in California. Writing was not engaging.
Profile Image for Nathan.
2 reviews
May 9, 2021
If you are interested in how best to manage California’s land for human use AND healthy ecosystems, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
1 review
May 12, 2021
Dense and critical information about California Native Americans, the use of fire as an ecological tool, the native plants used, and how the natives tended the wild through active land management.
20 reviews
November 15, 2022
Fascinating and I learned a ton, but the author repeats a lot of material. Should have been edited.
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