Flowers we call daffodils, splashes of deep yellow poking up around coast hillsides in West Marin, are more properly called “narcissus.” They are longtime residents of the Laguna and Coast Trail area. To a gardener, they are also called jonquils or narcissus. Daffodils have larger flowers, whereas jonquils are hybrids of various species and narcissus are smaller flowers in colors ranging from deepest lemon and apricot to the palest cream. The bulbs increase from year to year and are considered unappetizing to gophers and deer.
Originally from Europe and North Africa, the plants take their scientific name from the Greek legend of a youth who found himself so attractive that he ignored all else, including a nymph who loved him, while he gazed at himself in a pool of water. Unable to leave his reflection, he pined away and eventually died. The nymph, Echo, caused the flowers to grow in his memory.
The daffodil field in the national seashore is one of the not-so-secret delights of late winter and early spring. The flat lands tucked between the oceanside ridges of the Laguna Trail area were once T Ranch, and later Laguna Ranch, named for the small ocean lagoon in the area. The ranch was part of the James MacMillan Shafter holdings and, like many of the ranches, was rented by a series of tenants over the years.
Various dairy and butter-making operations thrived there until the mid 1940s, when the 30th Infantry branch of the army leased the ranch briefly, renaming it Camp Hydel. The infantry bivouacked there to build sandbag gun emplacements for artillery training in the nearby hills. At that time, there was no Limantour Road as we know it and access to the camp was made over the ridge on Balboa Drive, past a sentry. By 1943, much of the infantry training area was abandoned as the air force began to use Limantour Spit as a bomber training area, called the Drakes Bay Skip and Dive Bombing Range.
At the same time, the Kimura family raised 200 acres of peas at Station 1, now the Drakes Head area, northwest of Laguna Ranch. Historian Jack Mason’s book “Point Reyes West” described the scene: “…the ping of target practice replaced the bark of quail shoots. Army boys and Japanese pea growers lived side by side on cordial terms for a year and half.” Unfortunately, this cordial existence lasted only until the Kimuras, and other American citizens of Japanese, Italian and German descent, were interned or moved away from California coastal areas during World War II.
After the camp was dismantled, Robert Marshall, a rancher and lumberman, set up a beef operation at Laguna Ranch. He also leased some land to a lily and daffodil-growing business, and it is the descendants of these commercial nursery plants that have continued to bloom each spring. The old ranch buildings currently house a hostel and the army’s Quonset hut was replaced by the Clem Miller Educational Center. Grazing deer and elk have succeeded cows, and patches of daffodils pop up along Coast Trail and in the meadow, the peaceful scene seemingly forgetful of the trauma of internment or the ping of weapons.
As a California native daughter, Loretta Farley spent 30 years as a ranger and is always interested in imagining, and then studying, the stories behind the scenery. She lives in Point Reyes Station.