Sunday, December 14, 2008

December's Bounty

As I write this post, it is dark with rain outside. We went to Wilder Ranch for a run this morning. As I ran along the bluffs, the darkness over the ocean moved closer and finally let loose halfway through my trek. I was drenched when I returned to the car but, man alive, I LOVE running in the rain! There is something about being out in the elements that makes me feel so alive. Skiing in white out conditions, hiking in the blazing heat and trail running in the rain all bring that excitement.

Generally speaking, I don't plan to have those experiences. But, if I'm willing to head out, prepared for the possibility, then so be it. Besides, all week it's been pleasant, sunny and mild. The flowers in the garden continue to blossom and the lettuce seeds I planted are happily sprouting. Ski season approaches and we need some water!

The trail I ran on along the bluffs had tire tracks which provided a soft, dirt surface. The space in between the tracks was green with grass. Along this trail, an alcove juts into the bluff. To continue on the trail, I had to go down to the beach and climb the trail back up to the bluff top on the other side of the alcove. There I found the tracks completely covered in grass with gopher holes everywhere. I continued for about half a mile before I d
ecided running in a pasture wasn't what I had in mind. By the time I got back to the tire tracks, they had puddled up and I ran over 2 miles in water. I thought about how cool it was to have an excuse to stomp in puddles.

Returning home, I took a peek at the lettuce plants, glowing bright green in the rainy darkness. I'll need to separate the plants in the coming week. If they manage to reach maturity, I'll be peddling lettuce to my neighbors in January. I also have some carrots out there. Right now they look like two rows of grass. I've never grown carrots before but my partner says that's what they should look like.

While the Begonias have expired, the azalea bushes are going wild. The Mexican Sage, so prevalent in these parts, offers food for the hummingbirds that don't migrate to warmer climes. All around the neighborhood, homes adorned with Christmas lights also have yards blooming with plant growth. On my run, fat little birds bathed in puddles as I ran by and the ranch cows preferred to stand in the rain rather than take shelter; all of us enjoying the bounty December has brought.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Hiking is one of my favorite activities. I love exploring; seeking out plants and animals, observing the transformation brought on by seasonal changes. When I'm outdoors, whether on the beach or in the woods, listening to birds or critters scurrying in the duff, hearing the waves crash or the creek gurgle, my mind is freed.

Just as in meditation, thoughts drift in and out. Some I ponder further, others I release. Occasionally the trail demands attention because it's rocky or filled with the gnarled, bony protrusions of trees. Creek crossings can by fun and challenging. I once heard it said that hiking is just walking. This is not so. To me, hiking includes elevation change. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Whatever the case, it always offers a change of perspective.

During my most recent hike, I was seeking out signs of the season. Once the rains begin, fungi pops up everywhere in astounding variety. I don't know much about this life form. I've eaten a few types of mushrooms and have enjoyed them. In 2000 or 2001, I went to a conference during which Paul Stamets delivered a scintillating talk about the intelligence of fungi. If I remember correctly he said that fungi could be trained and that it can be used to eat uranium. Anyway, I found several specimens and am really happy with the macro feature on my camera.

My other objective was to find a banana slug. It wasn't hard. This guy was just off the trail, a lovely, bright yellow beacon amidst the duff. Slugs are everywhere, but there's something about a banana slug that makes them so likable. I will usually move them off a trail used by horses or bikes in hopes of saving them from a messy demise.

The rainy season is just beginning. As the winter equinox approaches and the temperatures drop, I look forward to hiking and seeing the changes winter brings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Day in the Santa Cruz

I was drawn to California by so many things. I was entranced by flying in and out of SFO in the fog. Take off and landing always seemed perilous with runways projecting into water. The smell of the air, the palm trees, the mild weather, the ocean, the redwoods, the wild life, all beckoned. I had lived a good life in Chicago, riding my bike on the lake front, going to college and working downtown, dancin' and living large with the homegirls. But California made me want something different.

Each visit brought a new experience; a hike in Muir Woods, driving scenic roads such as Devil's Slide, Skyline and 280 that provide stellar views of the bay area, and visiting the many beaches along Highway 1. Wildlife abounds. I've seen several species of lizard, snakes, newts, a wide variety of birds, deer, fox, coyote, bear, bob cat and mountain lion. In Chicago, sightings were limited to rats, racoons, seagulls, pigeons and the occasional deer. I did once see what looked like a crawfish on the rocks at the lake. But in the years I've been in CA, I've seen dolphins, whales, octopus and lots of little critters all while walking on the beach.

Last weekend we decided to make a vacation day. We went down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. While only a fraction of the rides were in operation (take note if you visit in November), the sun was shining and lines were short. After a few rides, we walked the beach from one end to the other and then walked to the end of the wharf. At the end of the pier are viewing areas that allow for observation of the sea lions that lounge under the pier. There had to be over a hundred of them. We got a veggie burger and fries and enjoyed the gentle breeze. On a whim, we headed to Natural Bridges State Beach to check out the migrating Monarchs. As we slowly walked the path, bunches of butterflies could be seen hanging on the tree branches. As we approached the observation deck, several hundred butterflies could be seen fluttering in the treetops. It was the perfect way to end a perfect day.

We returned to our car and were home in 25 minutes. That's California Dreamin'.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Life is Good

While the rainy season started with a dousing, the weather has been sublime over the past few days. I've planted assorted lettuce and carrot seeds in hopes that the sunshine will make up for the late start. Picked many lemons yesterday, the poor tree is laden and needs a good pruning. I've never done it before but will try in the coming month.

I grew up in Chicago and took my first trip to San Francisco in January 1998. I swore I move someday but the opportunity didn't arise for many years. I was walking home from the train station late one night. It was snowing heavily and there were few foot prints. It was a lovely sight but I heard a small voice in my head say, "life sucks." I left before the following winter.

I enjoy being outside. I walked frequently in Chicago, even in snow and rain. I appreciated the beautiful gardens, quiet streets, peering in storefronts after hours but after many years, it was old. Some have told me that they couldn't live in a place like this, a place where it is warmer and sunnier through the winter. They like the change of seasons, they say. I like the change of seasons, too. Summer is warm and dry, with cool fog frequently found on the coast. Fall begins sunny and cool with blue sky over the ocean and ends with rain.
The Earth responds. Roses, azaleas and other flowers begin to appear. Winter brings more rain, cloudy skies and just enough occasional sunshine to sunbath every now and again. Tapering off, the rains carry over to the spring and wildflowers abound. For the observer, the seasonal changes are clear.

Down the street a maple is changing. Color dots the S
anta Cruz Mountains on a canvass of lush green. The smell of pine fills the air. Birds flit from one tree to the next, chirping gaily while cuckoos squawk in the distance. A hummingbird zips close to the window as I sit here, reminding me to put up a feeder. A horse whinnies down the road. Life is Good.