Summer had not yet arrived, but already the hillside on the edge of Los Padres National Forest was the color of toast.
Even a brilliantly sunny day couldn’t dress up the dull palette of invasive grasses that had transformed the slope into a dried-up weed patch.
Only a sprinkling of young shrubs provided a hint of what the spot looked like before it had burned — again and again and again.
In the last 22 years, three wildfires have swept across the area, all but erasing the cover of gray-green sage scrub documented in 1930s aerial photographs.
Southern California’s native shrublands are famously tough. Conservationist John Muir celebrated them as Mother Nature at her “most ruggedly, thornily savage.”
They evolved along with long, hot summers, at least six rainless months a year and intense wildfires.
But not this much fire, this often.