The Stillness

Some of you are going to read this post and know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are going to think, “Yep, this chick is nuts!” But don’t write me off just yet…

 Gravel crunches beneath my tires in the Hume Lake parking area. I turn off the engine and sit for a minute to squelch my frustration. Today’s adventure plan was to hike to the Boole tree (a giant sequoia free from paved walkways and fences), but compliments of the man who set over 1,600 acres of the Sequoia National Forest on fire last year while tending to the 2,000 plus marijuana plants that he was growing in the national forest, the Converse Basin Trail that would lead me there is closed.

Rocky hops off my lap and presses his paws against the passenger-side window then looks back at me, his brown eyes expectant and mouth wide with a doggy smile. I laugh and clip the ridiculously-too-big-for-him canicross leash to his halter, snap the other end around my waist, and together we make our way to the trail.A breeze, cool from its journey across the lake refreshes me. Sunlight breaks through the branches of towering evergreens creating a shifting patchwork of gold at my feet. My day is perfect. Ahead a swarm of flying insects blocks the path. I consider going back for the insect repellent that has been tucked away in my trunk since before I started this gypsy life. Instead I choose to brave the biting beasts.
Ten steps.
Hundreds of lady bugs surround me—drifting, floating, twirling, swirling. One lands lightly on my arm, resting for barely a second before returning to its aerial dance. Slowly the magical swarm moves away, forming a ribbon leading into the trees. I can’t help myself. I leave the path to follow the ladybug trail. Pine needles blanket the ground beneath my feet as I weave between the trees. I’ve only traveled a few feet from the trail when the stream of ladybugs breaks apart and disappears through the branches.
I follow.
The lake stretches before me like a sea of sparkling sapphires. A pair of grebes drift along its surface. 


Rocky’s nose finds the ground and leads him in an erratic pattern along the edge of the water as I settle onto a nearby rock to watch the grebes as they take turns diving beneath the water, each time rising farther away from me.The birds are nothing more than two dark spots on the blue water and Rocky is once again staring expectantly at me. I rise from my observation perch and make my way back to the path. We wind our way through a clearing. Bushes bursting with tiny pink bell flowers are scattered among the gold and green California grass.

Beyond the clearing, evergreens reclaim the landscape. Although dwarf-like in comparison to their sequoia cousins, these trees hold their own majesty. And I love that I am alone here. I have craved this solitude. I pause near a large red fir and press my hand against its cinnamon bark. I feel its energy flow through me as I gaze up into its branches and wonder…


How many birds have built their homes in those branches?
How many squirrels have called this tree their playground?

How many feet have pressed down the earth over its roots?
How many hands have pressed against its trunk as mine does?  
I close my eyes and breathe deeply of this pure air.
And a stillness settles over me. It soothes me, energizes me and fills me with joy.
It is a stillness that can only be found in the forest. A stillness born from great trees.
Which person are you? 
  

That Place

On each assignment, I search for That Place.

It only has a few requirements.

      It must be nearby.

      It must bring me closer to nature.

      It must allow dogs (I do make an exception to this rule when Rocky doesn’t travel with me.)

      It must center me.

Sometimes I’ll be almost through my assignment before I find That Place.

In North Carolina, it was Battleground Park in Greensboro. I so loved walking along the winding paved pathways sheltered beneath the branches of great trees, as I watched bluebirds, woodpeckers, cardinals and the occasional vulture. The best part….I shared this time with my closest friend, Jeanne Curtin.

In South Carolina, it was Lake Conestee.  I watched baby herons grow to adulthood, discovered red-shouldered hawk nests, glimpsed a beaver and discovered one of my first tree creatures in this preserve.

In Maine, it was a magical trail in downtown Corinna. It began as a boardwalk at a small dam and wove its way through a marshland rich with touch-me-nots, ducks, butterflies and the occasional hummingbird. It connects with the rail trail, bordered by wetlands on one side and farmland on the other.

In Florida, I never found That Place. There were very few trails nearby that allowed dogs. I considered risking bringing Rocky along in his pouch and throwing out the argument that you can barely consider him a dog.

Today I found That Place here in California. It took some searching, but I knew that it had to be here.

I had tried the Avocado Rim trail. It was disgustingly dirty and really more of a road than a trail.

I had parked at the dam and walked along the river. It was clean, but once again, more of a road than a trail.

I had tried the other side of the river. But the trail petered out into a field of burrs that clung to my socks then worked their way into my shoes. Rocky didn’t like this field any better than me. He insisted on being carried through the burry grass.

Today I headed out intent on settling for a walk along the road across from the dam. As I drove along the Pine Flat road, I passed a sign that said ‘River Access No Camping’. As I rounded the corner, I spotted a Kiosk a few feet beyond the parking area.

Kiosks mean trails!

I made a U-turn, turned into the access point and my oh-too-low-to-the-ground car crept down the partially washed out, steep drive.

The moment I stepped out of my car, I knew I’d found it. This was That Place.

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The river drifted lazily around a tiny island crowded with sycamore trees. A few people fished along the river, but not so much to feel crowded. And there, beyond the Kiosk was a trail. Not a road, but an actual trail.

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And it was perfect.

Scattered craggy trees with their branches twisting over the trail.

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The river’s melody plays alongside me.

Swallows perform their acrobatic aerial dance as they gather their dinner.

Stalks filled with yellow flowers, wild roses, and some tiny flowers that remind me of miniature dragons border my path.

A scrub jays squawks as I pass beneath the branches of its tree.

I scramble up a hill of granite boulders that makes me wish I’d worn my hiking shoes.

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Tiny birds, not much bigger than hummingbirds flit about on giant thistles with variegated leaves.

A waterfall of yellow flowers spills down a rocky hill.

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A red shouldered hawk soars across the river

I climb to the top of a hill that is solid rock. From here I can see the dam, the rolling golden California hills and the mountains beyond. I realize that I’ve made my way almost to the trail that had petered out into a burry field.

Across the river, crows and vultures perch, waiting on bare branches.

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Beyond the rock hill, the trail becomes more difficult to follow. Two picnic tables, one overtaken by tall green grass spur me forward.IMG_8553.JPG

A rustle of grass and a glimpse of a ground squirrel scurrying out of site.

Two quails dash into the underbrush. I’ll remember this spot, because I’d love to get a picture of them.

Across the river, a cow ‘moos.’ I looked toward the sound and spot what I believe is a cormorant with a speckled white upper body and brown lower half.

I stand quietly, my eyes closed and listen to the sounds of the river, birds and the solitary cow. The peacefulness of nature centers me.

Yes.

This is That Place

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Ancient Majesty

I awake to the sound of a light rain. I feel rested–recovered from my trek across the US. And now my mind moves on to the reason I made that journey.  There are so many things here in California that I want to experience.

Is there a reason I can’t start now?

  • Grocery shopping-done
  • Car unpacked-done
  • Pre assignment checklist – done

I grab Rocky, my camera and a bag of snacks and I’m off to do something I’ve always wanted to do….stand beneath the branches of a giant Sequoia.

As I following the winding road to elevations of over 6000 feet, I stop to admire the beauty of this mountain terrain. And I’m glad that I left my winter coat in the trunk, because as the elevation increases, the temperature drops.IMG_7913

I watch for the ancient trees, expecting to see their branches reaching for the clouds around each corner. But all I see are low growing trees, green grasses and several dead evergreens, their green pine needles turned to rust.IMG_7918

The trees grow denser and I reach the gate to Kings Canyon National Park. (Here’s where I’m once again thankful for the investment in a National Park Pass)IMG_7909

Large patches of snow cover the ground beneath the trees. Warnings of ice on the road slow my pace. I glimpse red trunks ahead. And then I see it. I arrive at the Grant Village Visitor Center and I’m feeling a little disappointed. Yes, I’ve seen some large trees, but nothing none larger than the trees I’d seen at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.

 

After a visit with the park ranger, I’m encouraged that the great trees do indeed exist and I continue along the winding road. And there it is! My first giant Sequoia. It’s not the largest – The Grant Tree- but it is here, unfenced, just off the road waiting for me. This tree has stood for ages. It has seen not only the history of this country, but the hundreds of years before. Could a wooly mammoth have passed beneath its branches? I cant’ really find the words to describe how it felt to stand in the presence of this majestic tree.IMG_7941

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Beneath the surface a seed awakens.

Roots wind their way deep into the rich soil.

A tender sprout bursts through the surface.

Thin shoots of green unfold from atop a reddish stem stretching toward the warming rays of sunshine.

A soft nose brushes against the tips of the leaves. Teeth tear nearby grass from the earth.  A shadow moves across the ground and slender legs glide past, and then the warmth of the sun once again falls on the struggling sprout.

The sun rises.

The sun sets.

Days fade into weeks.

The red stem thickens.

Thin green leaves branch outward.

The sun grows hot and cracks form in the dry earth.

The green leaves droop.

A single drop of rain falls. And then another. And another….

The earth’s thirst is quenched and the roots draw in the needed moisture.

Months fade into years.

The tender sapling has grown into a tree.

Birds nest in its branches.

Men seek shelter beneath its great canopy.

Decades fade to centuries.

Branches disappear into the clouds and what was once a tiny stem is now a majestic trunk that stretches twenty five feet across.

More men arrive. They carry saws and axes. Neighboring trees crash to the ground.

A century passes.

Fire burns through the forest, leaving a deep scar on the great tree. But it does not fall. It does not die.

Decades pass.

The ancient tree stands proud

A woman stands within the scar. Her hands press against the trunk. She closes her eyes and allows the majesty of this ageless tree to surround her.

She opens her eyes and gazes up into the branches breathing deeply of the mountain air.

She watches as a cone tumbles to the ground.

Unseen a seed slips from its shelter within the cone and nestles into the rich soil.

Beneath the earth, the seed sleeps.IMG_7928

 

 

Day 8:  Journey’s End…for now!

Today I will arrive at my new home! I’m so excited that I have butterflies!!! Rocky senses the excitement as well. I notice an extra spring in his step. 

It takes a conscious effort to focus on being “where I am” I don’t want to be so focused on my destination  that I mentally skip past this phase of my journey. 

I see  the desert with new eyes today. What I thought was just dry, dull earth is really  golden grass. Low growing shrubs and the occasional ‘tree’ add depth to the terrain. Rugged mountains rise toward the cloudy sky, completing the portrait.

 

I spot a sign: Desert Tortoise terrain 13 miles. Shockingly, I veer off the highway with high hopes of spotting a tortoise in the wild. 

Ten miles pass without a sighting and I return to the highway. 

Oil pumps slide by on my right. A wind farm begins at the foot of the mountains ahead, stretching over its peak. This ‘farm’ is unlike any I’ve seen in my travels. In addition to the giant turbines, there are smaller turbines of varying sizes as if baby wind machines are growing beneath their parents. 

I’ve been transported into a new world! The desert has disappeared and I am surrounded by rolling hills and mountains clothed in green grass. Many of the slopes display blankets of purple and yellow flowers. I desperately search for a safe place to pull over for a picture, but without success. In this moment I realize that I’ve missed the lush green of grass and leafy trees.  

 Another diversion calls to me in the midst of the green mountains. It is the Cesar Chavez National Monument. He is known for his efforts to improve the lives of the farm workers and for his gentle spirit.  I enjoy this chance to learn a bit of history surrounding my new home.  

     

  

 The mountains are behind me and for a brief period the desert has returned.  It ends in a sudden starling appearance of lush green. This transformation of dry earth to an  oasis of greenery springs from the innovation of irrigation systems. Groves of citrus trees and vineyards slide past my windows, all supported by the wonder of irrigation systems. I exit the highway and continue through flat farmlands, trying not to be disappointed that the mountains have disappeared. 

I am only a half hour from “home” when they mountains return!   

      I have traveled through 8 states and 3 time zones, listened to 5 audiobooks, slept in 6 campsites and one motel, survived a creeper and now I am here! I couldn’t be more satisfied with my little mother-in-law apartment. And my landlords feel like long lost friends!  

 Thank you for journeying with me!