At the beginning my fourth year of teaching fourth grade at Highlands Elementary, I was heading heading south on Highway 280 on my first day of school.
Highway 280 is usually blanketed in fog this time of year (summer) and today was no exception. I drive this route over 200 times a year and you develop a certain flow to your commute and I look forward to certain landmarks on my southward journey into San Mateo County. The first is a mile or two after the 280 and 238 split, when the tree line falls away to reveal the wooded rolling hills of the coast range that rise up from that crack in the earth known as San Andreas Fault. As I near Crystal Springs Reservoir, I scan the skies for raptors in general and bald eagles in particular. I have seen bald eagles on only three occasions in the past three years. Seeing an adult bald is always a good way to start my day, especially on the first day of school, but today my morning was baldless.
My next landmarks, in quick succession, were the Father Serra statue on the right, perpetually pointing to the west, the “Flintstone House” (price tag: $3,195,000), and the power tower level with the roadway on Crystal Springs Bridge, where a lone peregrine frequently perches. But this morning the tower was sans peregrine. I will check the tower on my afternoon homeward commute, when the helmeted wanderer is more reliable.
I exited 280 at the Bunker Hill turn off and then headed east, over the flow of Silicon Valley sludge, climbing the hill to the school. Just ahead, a white ghost passed over Bunker Hill Road, heading south. An excellent omen, our local white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus). I parked and as I walk to my classroom I saw the kite alight on top of the tall pine (it’s lookout perch), like a Yuletide angel toping a Christmas tree. This certainly was the omen I had been looking for This was going to be a great school year.
A white-tailed kite kiting. This species has been making a recovery in California, helped by green belts along roads and highways. The Highlands kites use the greenbelt that parallels Highway 280 as a hunting territory.