What rises in the middle of southern Sonoma County, serves as the headwaters of three major watersheds and is surrounded by a quarter million people?
The answer is Sonoma Mountain — a treasure in plain sight that resembles more of a soft, rambling ridge than a sharp peak at its apex. The mountain provides habitat for wildlife, volcanic soil for growing grapes and natural inspiration for artists and writers who have lived in the shadow of its mighty shoulders through the years.
At roughly 2,463 feet in elevation, it is the highest peak in the Sonoma Mountains, a short, 23-mile-long range that stretches from Sears Point to Bennett Peak (1,880 feet high) and Taylor Mountain (1,404 feet high) in Santa Rosa.
“It’s this mountain that’s surrounded by development and vineyards and the human world,” said Arthur Dawson, author of a new book devoted specifically to this peak. “But the mountain itself is still a semi-wild place … some is regional park, some is open space district, some is private preserve and some folks just have their trophy home up there.”
Glen Ellen-based Dawson, a regional historian and ecologist who has served on the board of the nonprofit Sonoma Mountain Preservation (SMP) for several years, coordinated and wrote the central text for “Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images,” which was self-published with help from other nonprofits and donors.
For the book, Dawson interviewed a wide range of people who had close ties to the mountain, either growing up roaming free across its forests, designing its trails, providing education at its nature preserves or doing research on its history and geology.
“All these people had a personal connection with the mountain,” he said. “It wasn’t abstract.”
The recently released book celebrates Sonoma Mountain Preservation’s 25th anniversary this month. The nonprofit, which has advocated for open space and scenic preservation of Sonoma Mountain since 1993, received a generous, unexpected donation three years ago that served as seed money for the project.
“After we spent time vetting different ideas, the book rose to the surface,” Dawson said. “The Sonoma Land Trust was very interested in the project, so they sponsored it early on.”
The coffee-table book features 140 photographs, a dozen maps and a raft of stories about the mountain from people ranging from the Coast Miwok to Jack London, plus chapters written by geologist Rebecca Lawton and guidebook author Tracy Salcedo. All of the contributors have deep roots in the mountain, living either on its slopes or in its shadow.
One of the main missions of the book is to educate Sonoma County residents about the mountain and its storied history.
“It’s not an obvious peak, and a lot of people who live around it could not even point to it,” Dawson said. “It’s a mountain without an ego.”
Meg Beeler, chair of the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board, said the goal of the book is also to connect and expand awareness about all the life that thrives on the mountain.
“We know many, many people have no awareness that they have this mountain in their backyard,” she said. “So we wanted to show them how amazing this mountain is and to deepen their connection to a sense of place.”
Environmental writer Kenneth Brower of Berkeley, son of the pioneering environmentalist David Brower, wrote the foreword to the book.
MEET ARTHUR DAWSON
What: “A Treasure in Time,” a book reading and signing with the author of “Where the World Begins.”
When: Wednesday, March 20, 7 p.m.
Where: The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum, 20 Fourth St.