Tag Archives: Hiking

The Woods

Sunol Wilderness landscape, California

It seems natural to me that someone who likes to be outdoors walking under the trees will also like to be indoors reading. Both are woodsy activities, the first self-evidently so and the second for the reason that paper has been made primarily of wood pulp for the past two hundred years. There is a special relationship between books and trees, and the reader and the hiker are not rarely the same person. Anyway, reading and hiking together make up 95% of what I would rather be doing at any given moment. I’ve never felt there was any disagreement between the two activities. Our library at home I consider a little forest, and any little forest makes an excellent library.

It’s one of the better parts of living where we do in coastal Northern California that we’re able to hike comfortably year-round. It never snows at sea-level (at least not since I was a child), the rain in winter is infrequent enough, and the heat in summer is rarely severe. In addition to the numerous state and county parks where you might go exploring there are dozens of undeveloped open space areas that have been purchased and set aside by altruistic civic groups. In fact, there are so many of these public open spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area that I’ve never managed to visit even half of them. All told, they must contain thousands of miles of hiking trails.

This past weekend, hiking in the Sunol Wilderness area (my photo above), I unintentionally terrified my daughter by reminding her to look out for mountain lions when passing under oak boughs. Hiking in the woods here isn’t entirely safe. In addition to the mountain lions there are also rattlesnakes, and no end of poison oak. I’m lucky in that both my children like to hike almost as much as they like to read. But the little forest of books at home has its dangers too. Physically or intellectually, certain books are still out of reach. Perhaps it’s wise to anticipate threats. A little preparation can make the unexpected discovery of wild eyes staring at you from the branch above less frightening, and more thrilling.

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The New Year on Foot

We survived the holidays after all. There was family galore and friends and no end of gift giving or of food. The boy got the secondhand Italian accordion he desperately wanted. The girl got the metal detector she is sure will make her rich. Despite the cold snap of two weeks before, we had nothing over the holidays but clear skies and sunshine. It felt like a very early spring.

On New Year’s Eve my daughter wasn’t feeling well so we stayed home and played chess and read books and watched Jeremy Brett in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. On New Year’s Day we packed up the car and drove to the coast. As the bird flies our destination was maybe twenty miles away, directly west. But automobiles do not fly and the winding highway over the Santa Cruz Mountains runs to nearly fifty miles.

The coast at Pescadero is one of my favorite places. It’s never crowded, unless it’s crowded with birds. The warm sun and chilly Pacific welcomed us back without a second thought.

The beach at Pescadero, California.

The girl went to work with her metal detector but only found a few scraps of tin foil. Soon she and her brother were building driftwood forts instead. We had an outdoor lunch of bread and cheese, almonds, apples, and chocolate. Walking the shore, we found numbers of mussels and other shells, and the remains of innumerable crabs of all sizes that had washed up the beach with the tide.

Crab shell at Pescadero Beach, Northern California.

At Pescadero you get two days out for the price of one. When you’re tired of the gulls and shorebirds at the beach you can walk inland along sand trails to Pescadero Marsh, a state wildlife preserve. In order to get there you must first pass under the weathered concrete bridge where Highway 1 spans the lagoon.

Highway 1 bridge over Pescadero lagoon.

Hiking the marsh with a pair of binoculars you will spot all kinds of birds, waterfowl and shorebirds as well as passerines and raptors. Even in the supposed depth of winter here in Northern California, there are always birds singing.

You could almost imagine that the landscape is untouched, it feels so wild. But the massive grove of Australian eucalyptus on the north side of the marsh was planted there more than a hundred years ago. The South African ice plant (Hottentot fig), which turns orange this time of year, was probably introduced more recently, to keep the dunes in check. Both are considered “invasive species” and unwelcome now, but the birds and deer aren’t xenophobes, and neither am I.

Hiking the marsh at Pescadero, California.

The wind kicked up. It got cold and it was time to leave. The traffic through the town of Half Moon Bay and over the pass back into the more populous lowlands of San Francisco Bay was just horrible. The prospect of returning to work after a break of more than ten days was no less so.

“Just a shack on a hill nearby here, with a fireplace and a little garden,” I told my wife. “And room for plenty of books, of course. That’s all we need. We could retire and walk around every day and never have to see or talk to other people. I don’t think we’d ever get tired of it.”

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