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UCLA Magazine Winter 2004
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Winter 2004 Bruin Walk

Illustration of man at theater
Photography by Anne Burke

The last patch

"OK, now we're going to have to bushwhack." That's not something you hear too often around UCLA. But when Assistant Professor Tom Gillespie Ph.D. '98 of the geography department invites you on a tour of his favorite spot on campus, you'd better wear your hiking boots.

Gillespie's getaway offers a peek at what coastal California looked like before all the asphalt and concrete came along. In the northwest corner of campus, on a undeveloped and woodsy slope above the Krieger Center, is West Los Angeles' last patch of caostal sage scrub — the quickly disappearing plant community that at one time was found in abundance from the San Francisco Bay region to Baja California.

For anyone who loves California native plants — and Gillespie is among them — this patch is a slice of heaven. Amid the old oak trees and sycamores are dozens of hardy adaptees to California's arid climate — sweet-smelling sage, pungent rosemary, colorful California lilacs, spiny cactus and the Christmas berry, whose bright red pomes burst forth in winter.

This little-known area is a sun-splashed classroom for Gillespie. Each quarter, the assistant professor and his students scramble up the hillside to get acquainted with these born-and-bred Californians. In their natural habitat, Gillespie, who brings a boyish enthusiams to his professional duties, leads the expedition with a childlike sense of wonder that his students find irresistible.

by Anne Burke

2005 The Regents of the University of California