Sonoma Mountain: Where the World Begins

New book celebrates the mountain in stories and images.
Story Jonah Raskin
Photos Steven Krause

Arthur Dawson’s new book is big and beautiful as befitting a work about big, beautiful Sonoma Mountain, which frames the western perimeter of our Valley and provides so much joy to so many people. Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images isn’t the project of one person. In fact, Dawson enlisted a team of writers, including Meg Beeler, Rebecca Lawton, and Tracy Salcedo, along with photographers such as Ed Cooper, Scott Hess, and Ulrich Kolbe.
The eloquent and insightful Foreword, by environmentalist Kenneth Brower, sets the tone for the entire volume when he writes, “We are lucky in still having the good old Indian names, ‘Petaluma,’ and ‘Sonoma’ itself, among others. We are lucky that some old, time-tested native stories still adhere to the terrain.”
All the essays in this fine collection are infused with a sense of awe and wonder. “On the mountain, I walk a place of shade, peace, and sweet-smelling Douglas firs,
 knowing now that it once burst with fire
and edged onto shallow seas,” Rebecca Lawton writes in an essay on “Mountain Time: Geology.”
And in a chapter titled, “Circles of Time,” Mickey Cooke begins, “No rain had fallen for four months. At the foot of Sonoma Mountain, most of the creeks had turned into dry washes filled with rocks and sand…The land was parched and thirsty.”
All of the wordsmiths, including Dawson himself, conjure the spirit of the mountain. They also describe the geology, the flora and fauna, the human history, the seasons, the flow of water, the force of fire. The words are memorable, but it’s the dozens and dozens of color photographs that take the breath away and bestow a sense of rapture.
Looking at the photos is almost as good as being on the mountain itself. In fact, the mountain, and all its many nooks and crannies, will never look quite as well-composed as it does in the photos of rocks, trees, streams, deer and mountain lions, some of which look ferocious.
Sonoma Mountain is civilized around the edges but it’s wild at heart, and the wildness of the place comes across in the images and words from the major contributors, and also in the brief quotations from the likes of Jack London, Wendy Eliot and Richard Dale, who exclaims, “Sonoma Mountain coyotes seem to be pretty bright and big, kind of a red, russet color. I just love their attitude, which is always like, ‘What are you doing here? Don’t talk to me. I’m having a conversation with my friend, this other coyote.’”
Where the World Begins also honors the community of local people who have cared for the mountain, fought to preserve it, restore it, and steward it.
It could be argued that the only problem with this big beautiful book is that it will spread the glory of Sonoma Mountain far and wide. Our secret will travel to the ends of the earth, and people will come to see for themselves, hike the trails, enjoy the seasons (yes, we do have seasons), listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees and the rushing of waters in the creeks during the rainy season. But that’s OK. Let them come. Sonoma Mountain is big enough to accommodate hikers, backpackers, photographers, adventurers like Jack London, and those who just like to lie on their backs and look at the sky overhead.
Arthur Dawson has made us proud. The mountain would be pleased with this book and proud of all the many contributors, including Greg Sarris, who tells a modern creation story about Coyote-man and a time when all of earth was covered with water, except for Oona-pa’is, as the Coast Miwok called Sonoma Mountain. Open this book and let yourself be carried back to
Jonah Raskin has hiked Sonoma Mountain for four decades.

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