Soul. The essence of a place is felt through these threads of energy. Layers are built into a rich fabric of history, maintained in its lore. Old walls whisper the story of its past. Towns expand, building upon the traditions and tales felt in its framework. The depth of a culture is formed through juxtaposed experiences of its people: hardship and prosperity, love and loss, conflict and harmony. But what if there are no walls, no lore, no sense of history? Perhaps the culture is imported and a new narrative is created… on fresh walls, with an appearance of history.
As its Spanish name indicates, El Dorado Hills sits among rolling golden hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. This serene setting, dotted with broad oak trees and wildlife, whispers of a forgotten past. Here, there is no history, no traditions, no antiquity to add a sense of depth. Everything is fresh and new. Architecture is borrowed from European villages. Everything is picturesque and clean. Or so it appears… Overhead I hear the hawk’s whistling call; a soft, cool breeze kisses my face; fallen leaves rustle under the trees. There is a restless sense of a deeper existence.
Wide vistas overlook the flat, fertile Sacramento Valley as it converges with these scenic hills. Today, this suburban town is an ideal hub from which to venture into the nearby Gold Country, or further east to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Heading west, it provides direct access to the state capital of Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. A quaint village atmosphere was developed at the town’s core surrounded by its neighborhoods. Throughout the community, there is nature to explore and appreciate. There is a lure to the beauty of these hills, with hints of a profound soul, more than its surface may suggest.
Roaming through the hills, I take a closer look into this area that I call home, discovering evidence of forgotten time. Hundred-year oak trees with thick limbs reach their arms across grassy meadows. I wonder what they have seen. There are fragments of stone walls, remnants of an old structure. Though I can only guess their age, they are reminders that people have inhabited these hills for millennia. Descendants from the Bering Strait migration, the native Maidu and Miwok people were skilled basket weavers who lived in harmony with the land, hunting and gathering. Tending to the groves of black oaks growing throughout the hills, their acorns provided a staple to their diet. They respectfully sustained through their interrelationship with the Earth.
When the Gold Rush began in 1848, prospectors surged into the area. In their hungry quest, they took little care for anything or anyone in their path. Their indifference destroyed much of the existing ecosystem and with it, the native’s pastoral way of life. As camps along the access routes began to emerge, the town of Clarksville was established at this site. For a short time, it became a commercial and social center for the area, and later, a service point for the surrounding ranchers. The area began to decline, however, when the railroad coming from Sacramento to Placerville was routed to the south. Then, like sand swept away with the wind, the town faded away when the Lincoln Highway bypassed it completely, running north from Folsom to Auburn.
Today, the planned communities and infrastructure constructed here have nearly removed the remaining evidence of its past life. At the same time, there has been a common effort to maintain the hills’ spaciousness and natural scenery. Walking paths meander through woody passages, along waterways, and beside creeks shedding mountainous snow melt. The ubiquitous grasses throughout these hills, like the ore that made California so desirable, turn to gold in the summer and give added meaning to its name. El Dorado Hills is the treasure found at the end of a metaphoric rainbow. Although its obscure history gives these hills the sense of an apparition, hints of its reality provide authenticity to it.
This area continues to progress and prosper through development. Residents enjoy access to nature and have an appreciation for quality and aesthetics. Our responsibility is to preserve the unspoiled views and natural beauty of these hills. History provides depth to our culture and a tool from which to learn. We can move forward, preserving the few pieces of history found in these hills. By learning lessons from the generations who precede us, we can be mindful of our symbiotic connection to ecology. Let us honor the inherent intelligence that the native people had through their respect for the land.
I look out across the field leading to our Serrano home and hope that our serene view is preserved. The freeway dips down beyond the hill. Developers are planning to build a new interchange—a clover-shaped monstrosity—threatening the landscape. The open hillside, spotted with sprawling oak trees, is an idyllic setting. Its soul is felt, uplifting my spirit. Here, our residents jog, walk their dogs, ride bikes, or simply view wildlife.
Collectively we enjoy our comforts and are caretakers of our surroundings. While improving access, it is important that we expand thoughtfully, being conscious of our both our aesthetic and environmental impact. I am confident that the natural beauty and access to it can be protected. Along with the ecosystem, our own vitality depends upon it.