After reading the newspaper advertisement, I was quick to
interview with the volunteer coordinator of the Tijuana River
National Estaurine Research Reserve (more popularly known
as the Tijuana Estuary). This estuary is under the aegis of
California State Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
and also serves as a research facility for the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
A 2500 acre reserve, where the fresh water of the Tijuana River
meets with the sea water of the Pacific Ocean, this estuary is
located literally on the very far southwestern edge of the United
States. The Tijuana Estuary nearly borders Mexico, with only
a very slim Border Field State Park standing in between; and
to the west, this estuary looks out toward the ocean with sand
dunes providing protection.
The advertisement called for volunteers to "restore habitat, care
for native gardens, nurture plants in the nursery, maintain trails,
and perform other maintenance activities at the reserve." No
experience needed, because there would be volunteer training.
Of course when the estuary's volunteer coordinator learned that
I was a retired park ranger with the National Park Service, well
the good lady could hardly contain her pleasure! It felt good,
Still fairly busy working as a cultural anthropologist, at first I
only committed to one day a week at the Tijuana Estuary. But
over time, I began to wind down my academic life and felt more
drawn to the "field," as I put it. So I put in more days working
in the nursery and garden as well doing needed maintenance.
Nothing I did proved very difficult. Still there was the enjoyment
working alongside a good crew of both professionals and
However, at the beginning of my volunteering at the Tijuana
Estuary, I decided to take advantage of the training program
offered by the education director. I had never worked at an
estuary, and I felt that I had a lot to learn before I started pitching
in. So for a few months I capitalized on the training.
I also learned that the Kumeyaay Indians--going back thousands
of years--lived in this particular coastal region. I knew that the
Kumeyaay wintered inland and spent their summers along the
coast. Evidently the tribe early on lived near the Tijuana Estuary,
mainly because of its biodiversity.
The Kumeyaay collected shellfish and fished along the coast.
They used nets, spears, and hook-and-line to fish. They even
fished offshore, using reed boats. And I found out, too, that they
even found clams. scallops, and abalone at the tidepools.
And farther inland they planted and harvested various food
products, such as corn. And following a harvest they carried out
small levels of burning that actually controlled plant viruses.
Also they were hunters, mainly of small game such as doves,
quail, geese, rabbits, wood rats, and squirrels. However, larger
game was available farther inland--such as deer. antelope, and
mountain sheep. And they gathered nuts and acorns, too, that
they stored in basket granaries.
A rather ingenious people, the Kumeyaay also engaged in what
today we would call "erosion control." They placed rocks alongside
natural drainage ditches to slow the flow of water, to create wider