Close up photo of a tree trunk tagged with two circular metal tags.

Not exactly wild, not exactly abandoned

A walk through San Francisco’s Presidio

by AK Krajewska

The first time I wandered into the Presidio by way of Mountain Lake Park, I wasn’t sure if I was even supposed to be there. Behind a chain link fence stood rows of empty houses, boarded up, painted white and then graffitied, with the grass around them overgrown. Feral calla lilies bloomed all around. Fog turned the late afternoon into twilight gloom. The feeling that I might be trespassing only drew me in. I was walking into a real-life Silent Hill. I wondered if I would get lost. My flip phone had only one bar left.

A wreath hangs on tree branch, its ribbons weaving in the wind

That must have been 2004 or at most 2005, just 10 years since the Presidio stopped being a military base and was handed over to the Presidio Trust. I guess it was technically a park, but it felt a lot more like an abandoned military base. I loved that feeling, and because I knew it couldn’t last, I wanted to spend as much time there as I could.

Plantain grows from cracks in the middle of an overgrown asphalt road

I don’t know what I was expecting would happen. Maybe something like what happened with the Public Health Service Hospital which looked so cool when it was abandoned and covered in graffiti and now is fancy apartments. Boring. All the charm gone.

A bunch of scrubby purple lupine and silvery artimsa, with a scrap of sky and water behind

But that’s not what happened to most of the Presidio. Rather than getting developed into dullness, it’s been getting rewilded. Bit by bit, the garbage dumps the military left behind got cleared out. Streams got daylighted. Wetlands restored. Dunes and hillsides stripped of invasive species and planted with native plants, returning, as much as it’s possible, to their original states, meadows and coastal scrub, a sanctuary for wild things.

Coastal strawberries spread over the dunes, in the background the Golden Gate bridge partly shrouded with fog

That’s why I went there last Sunday, looking for inspiration for my garden, which I want, as much as possible, to turn into a mini-habitat for native plants and animals.

An overgrown wild meadow with a mix of native and invasive species, in the background former military buildings in a Spanish revival style

But the restoration isn’t all done yet, and to my ongoing delight, there are still parts of the Presidio you can blunder into and wonder, am I supposed to be here?

The front of a building with decaying windows and a faded fallout shelter sign

Now I know: take pictures while it lasts, or at least until I run out of battery.

Overgrown stairs, with iceplant, rosemary and California poppies creeping over the edge