There are a great many outdoor places to invigorate a person by offering an opportunity to exercise in the beautiful setting that is Sonoma Valley and the surrounding Bay Area. This is a record of some of my excursions.

Monday, April 9, 2012

For the Birds

Quiet walk in the woods
On a cloudy winter day
Ominous rain clouds
Promising impending precipitation
Keeping away human crowds
So that I can enjoy my walk
In relative peace
Trekking up the rust trail
Shrouded in black oaks
Branches dripping green Spanish moss
Cloaking black eyed brown headed juncos
Hopping down the to the ground
In search of a meal.

Rain spattering against remaining
Bay leaves clinging to trees
Covering me sporadically as I continue to walk
Around the bend tree gives way to scrubs
Red-limbed manzanita
Blooming with bells
Blossoming white against
The dark green leaves.

I sit quietly on the stone bench
Hard and cold and comforting
Quiet time alone on the hill
Watching in the light rain
A red-shouldered hawk streak across the sky
Coming to rest on a bough across the meadow
Copper chest puffed out
Beneath hooked yellow beak
Piercing black eyes searching
Looks down at approaching noise
Of two hens clucking their way up the hill
Disturbing our reverie
No longer focusing on the hawk and the view
Persistently pulled away from
Meditative state
Where I search for something
For there is not a someone
Who has yet brought me the calm and quiet
I can always find
On a rainy day hike alone.

Thick bread crumb filled females
Rounding the corner
Miss the hawk as they talk
About hair styles and other feminine wiles
Meant to disguise their plainness
Behind a veneer of attractiveness
While the hawk
Now on the ground
Blends into gray and brown thistles
Behind rows of black and white feathers
Scratching the surface dirt
In search of substance
And sustenance that lies beneath.

I take too much time
Watching the birds
To do more than pause at the summit
To look out over the small town
Clouded in falling rain
Surrounded by greening golden hills
I have chores at home
Forcing me to leave
The security of solitude.

I linger for a few moments
Before leaving the trail for the empty parking lot
Holding on to whatever it is I've found
And have to forget when I walk
Back to town down the road.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hiking the Grand Canyon

As I often convey an opinion or an observation with an unrelenting flurry of words, the lack of any commentary as I stand at Mather Point and look out over the Grand Canyon causes my fiancee, Lisa Gallagher, to ask me if something is wrong. My gaze pans back over the geological marvel to her and I simply say, "No. Nothing could possibly be wrong with this moment."

Time is written in the cracks and layers of rock that descend more than a mile down towards the brownred Colorado River. A space of ten-miles lies between the north and south rims, an expanse that displays layers of rock that predate nearly all life on this planet. We walk along the South Rim trail our first night at the park, finding places along the way where we can maneuver out onto the cliffside where we sit and soak in the magnitude of the experience.

I stop to take another picture, this time of a dead tree with gray bleached limbs extending over the canyon side. Crouching down to get a better angle, i unwittingly come nearly nose to nose with one of the seemingly thousand of small rodents that thrive on handouts from tourists. This particular varmint was a gray rock squirrel that looks very comfortable around humans as it searches for a snack.

A park ranger sitting beside a telescope kindly answers all of my questions as I try to figure out where we will hike the next day. We know any hike into the canyon will be strenuous, but are seeking to minimize our exposure to the summer sun. Other criteria for our preferred hike is that there be drinkable water at some point along the trail, a fair amount of wildlife, and spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. The ranger suggested we hike to Indian Gardens in Bright Angel Canyon.

We start the hike nearly two hours later than we'd intended; it proved difficult to rouse all parties in a timely fashion to embark on our excursion. Instead of beginning the hike at 6:30, it was well after 8 when we begin walking down into the canyon. One guidebook suggested the hike would take seven hours, making it doubtful we would be able to make it down and back up out of the canyon before the onset of the afternoon heat. With all of our encounters with the canyon's diverse wildlife we experience on the hike, though, it is difficult to complain for too long about our plans not going exactly as planned.

The trail is broken up into three one-and-a-half mile increments. At the end of each section is a rest stop with water, bathrooms and shade where it is recommended that weary and overheated hikers (which describes just about everyone we came across hiking up out of the canyon) sit for at least twenty to recuperate. Having just waited for fifteen minutes for a mule train to drop dirt on the trail to fill in some potholes, we decide not to stop at the first rest station.

There is far more vegetation than I expected in the Grand Canyon. Like the layers of rock that give the canyon its well-known stratified appearance, the vegetation of the canyon alters as we descend. Evergreens such as ponderosa pines and juniper trees that ring the southern rim give way to Utah agave and prickly pear cacti that thrive in the drier, hotter interior of the canyon. With a single stalk that can grow upwards of twelve feet. Extending from a small, shrub-like base, the Utah agave is by far the most unique plant we see on our hike and one of the most unusual I've ever seen. It only flowers once after growing for more than fifteen years before subsequently dying.

Hiding in the bark of a Fremont cottonwood, a southern plateau lizard inconspicuously guards the entrance to Indian Garden. With Garden Creek flowing year-round, the flora in this small oasis is significantly more lush than anywhere else on the trail. Lying underneath Fremont dogwoods and Gambel oaks, we nap in the heat of the day. Brown ground squirrels casually scamper to our bags while we sleep, intermittently rousing us for a moment to shoo them away from our packs. In the shade of a the same grove, a mule deer buck and and doe rest quietly.

I know the heat is out there waiting for us. We hiked down into the canyon and have to get back up. The knowledge of our impending four-and-a-half mile hike out of the canyon makes it easier to rest a little longer before resuming a hike that will see us gain 3000 feet in elevation before we are through. Finally we begin our long, uphill climb. Stopping at all the rest stops on the way back, we are able to converse with other adventurers from around the world likewise making a pilgrimage to this natural shrine.

A black speck in the distance becomes a group of black specks as a flight of California condors soars across the jagged skyline. More than halfway up the trail - and in desperate need of another break - we sit in the shade of limestone overhang and watch eight of the endangered birds fly back and forth between the sides of Bright Angel Canyon. Unlike their smaller cousins the turkey vulture that also call the canyon home, a condor's wings are bisected laterally by a series of white feathers. It is truly a wonder to see the nearly extinct species in the wild.

Finally finished with the hike, we return to our campsite where I use my last reserves of energy to quickly race over to the hammock. With a cold beer settling in my stomach, and another one half finished beside me, I begin to nod off as I reminisce over the day's adventures in the quiet of the early evening. It was a day filled with breathtaking vistas, and countless encounters with the fauna of the Grand Canyon. My respite is short-lived as the hammering of hairy woodpecker abruptly rouses me from my slumber. As beautiful as nature is, sometimes I wish there was a mute button for it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Late morning bike ride

I spilt air freshener on my shirt today. Now I know what my hell smells like. Febreeze.
I don't want to smell only flowers. I want to smell dirt and rain and flowers muddled together in a spring breeze. The concentrated dose overloading my senses.

The air freshener was from the bathroom at work. Contained within a small bluegreen vase, it sat on the stone counter. I placed it there while I changed my shirt.

I needed to change my shirt after an impromptu lunch break bike ride. Lisa is out of town. I was feeling lousy. I need more exercise and sunshine when she's gone. The chance to ride through the cool late morning past cow pastures dotted by valley oaks and spring streams that will be still running in summer is too much to resist.

While going down a narrow country road back into town, I decided it would be a good idea to wear fresh clothes at work. I thought it would be fun to wear a new shirt. My normal shirt is a blackbuttondownpolyestercotten blend that does not ventilate well. The new shirt is a short-sleeve, black cotton polo. A cooler shirt appealed greatly to me while I sweated in my black pants and t-shirt while riding.

The shirt I choose to wear is an unauthorized style, different from the one I've worn every day to work for nearly a work. Everyone I come across mentions the wardrobe change. It was as if I walked through the taupe work halls wearing a rainbow clown suit.

My manager, busy with a corporate audit, didn't have time to immediately address the situation immediately. My supervisor doesn't care about my wardrobe as it does not directly relate to my work productivity and it is unlikely it will get him in trouble.

When I finally have a moment with my manager to address the uniform alteration suggestion, he looks less than amused.

All during this hour or so it takes for me to be told to change, the lunch rush at the restaurant began.  Five tables full of old women and fellow employees hosting clients see me leave in one shirt and return in another.

I go to the server station, grab my backpack, and head to the guests' bathroom. Normally I would change in the employees' bathroom, but there wasn't the time for such societal conventions; people wanted their asparagus soup hot and I needed the greater gratuity better service would garner.

In my haste, I knock the liquid freshener onto my shirt. Only a few teaspoons of it spills, but it's potency is enough that it is an ever-present nuisance for the rest of my work day.

Taking it off after work was the second best part of my day after riding my bike with my daughter that afternoon. The third is certainly my torrid paced race against melancholy I took on my thirty-minute break from work. I felt so alive as I whipped past vineyards and auto repair shops that I forgot how much I missed her. But without that great race, I wouldn't have had this fantastic story to tell to you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

sitting on my eight foot plastic island

Another wave hits me,
Crashes across my body. 
I stagger backwards. 
My right foot finds the ocean floor. 
I push off from the sand,
And head back out again. 

I sit alone in the grey green water. 
Great swells flow underneath me. 
From Australia the motion comes
That lifts me up towards the coast of California. 

On a eight foot plastic island I sit,
Trying to see anything through the murky water.
But there is nothing. 
The secrets of the ocean are kept from me. 
I can only imagine what lies beneath.  

From the shore I must look small,
Though to me I look big. 
The people on shore are colorful specks on the tan sand to me. 
The ocean looks big to all of us. 

The water feet from me parts
As a harbor seal pokes its speckled gray head out. 
We contemplate each other for a moment before it returns back into the water. 
It must have been less impressed with me than I was with it. 
I would have preferred to watch it longer. 

No waves have come for a while. I pass the time singing to myself. 
Leaning forward, I splash the water on top of my board to keep time. 
I wish there was someone to talk to. 
Conversation causes the day to slip by faster. 
But then I think that is not what I want. 
My time in the ocean can go slowly.
It will be over all too soon.

Five brown pelicans swim abreast of each other.
Towards shore they swim until a wave behind them begins to crest and they use the wave's force to propel them into the air. 
I wish I could manipulate the waves and wind like a pelican. 
Cause currently I'm not doing anything but singing badly. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

bay area may storm

The may storm

On the 25th of May back in 2011, a tornado touched down in Northern California.

In Sonoma, stratus clouds, pinkorange in the fading light, were backdrop to the ominous approach of grey cumulonimbus towers.

At AT&T Park, where earlier in the day a steady rain had fallen, the Giants face off against the Marlins in a steady northeasterly breeze. The crowd quiets as the Florida slugger, who is 3-4, walks to the plate with bases loaded.

Three fallen stellar jay chicks, bright phosphorescent blue in the slanted afternoon light, were watched over by their mother in the tree. For three days they'd been beneath the rose bush, fending for themselves underneath her eye.

A couple I met from Texas  watched rain wash away their plans for a wine country Wednesday picnic. They decided to drive up through Glen Ellen and continue on 12 to Jenner. Along their drive the sun came out through a redwood forest.

I walked though the rain on my lunch break to my car. While sitting and reading to pass the time after the morning rush, the sound of rain smattering against the car was soothing after the noisy morning.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A walk alone

In the woods I walk slowly towards the rustle in the brush. 
A spotted towhee picks through dead leaves.
Rust waistcoat beneath black and white striped blazer.

Too many things for which I am responsible.
A person can't think with all these distractions.
The eagle does not feel bad when it kills the squirrel.
It only feels an absence of hunger.

Delicate and powerful,
The stream tumbles down the mountainside.
Alongside the trail water trickles down midnight rocks covered in moss.

A cow bellows.
I stand over barbed wire fence. 
Three white mottled brown cows look over their shoulders at me.
They look back the other way in unison.
The rear heifer bellows again,
Returning her gaze to me.
She regards me for a moment and walks past the other two who fall in line behind her.

It's an agitated group that lumbers up the hill towards the barn in the fading daylight. 
I imagine my presence saved them. 
The mountain lion did not strike 
As it had intended to.
It feared exposing itself to man.

I don't know what a man is. 
I don't know if it matters.
I hope I matter. 
I feel very small walking through the forest.  

There is no safe place in the world.
No spot where death cannot find you. 
In the forest alone at dusk I feel vulnerable. 
In my mind scenes of mountain lion attacks play out.
I wonder how I'd act in that situation. 
Would I freeze?
Would I run?
Or would I do what one is supposed to do when confronted with a panther:
Try to make myself seem intimidating.
That is a skill I know a man must possess.
To be able to make himself seem bigger than he actually is. 

Dark clouds in the western sky warn of immediate rainfall approaching. 
I leave the road and climb up the hill.
Sitting underneath a live oak, I wait out the shower.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why hiking is better than the gym

I do not like gyms. And for many good reasons. First there is the noise: a cacophony comprised of grunts and groans, bad pop music, the relentless pounding of feet on a treadmill, and the incessant banter of people who should be talking less and exercising more. Then there is the smell of sweat, mold, and desperation. Visually there is little I care less to see than someone else's reflection, let alone my own, while exercising in too little clothing against a taupe background. This is why, when I need a good workout, I take the Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock.

Traversing the boundary between Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and Hood Mountain Regional Park, the Goodspeed Trail is as physically challenging as a gym workout, while more ascetically pleasing. And the pleasant sensory experience began as soon as I turned off the car.

The trail begins just inside the park boundary along Adobe Canyon Road next to a small, dirt parking lot . As I cut the gas flow to the engine - and my music with it - the sound of Sonoma Creek made it seem like I'd step out of one world and into another. The feeling of teleportation was enhanced by the redwood grove, smelling damp and earthy, that dominates the first of many micro climates I encountered on my hike.

Walking back down the mountain, my legs shake as I move carefully down the steep, gravel trail. With an elevation gain of more than 2,000 feet in just over three miles, the Goodspeed Trail is one of the more demanding hikes in Sonoma Valley. But the difficulty of the hike is not due solely to the incline.

The vegetation along side the trail changes as I move from the cool shade out into the sun. the manzanita shrubs and madrone trees end abruptly and I’m walking in a steep grassy meadow. The green grass, vibrant in the direct sunlight, creates an emerald backdrop to the blue and violet flower of lupine flowers clinging to steep hillside. About half of the hike is uncovered, which means there is enough sunlight for the golden poppies that are scattered beside the trail, but it also means the hike can be almost unbearable on a hot day. This is why the hike is best made in the early morning or late afternoon. Regardless of the heat or the incline, the view at the top, not to mention what you might see along the trail, make it more than worth the trouble.

My legs are warmed by the sun from above and the oxidized rock from below as I snack on a peanut butter and jam sandwich on Gunsight Rock. Turkey vultures make lazy circles is the sky, using the same wind to glide around the western slope of Hood Mountain that I feel blowing past my face. To the south, past Sonoma Valley and San Pablo Bay, I can faintly see the San Francisco skyline through the mid-day sunshine and haze. To the west I look across Kenwood and Glen Ellen upon the tree covered slopes of Sonoma Mountain. As my gaze turns northwards, I see the sprawl of Santa Rosa flanked by the Mayacamas mountains that seemingly stretch on forever.

This is not the first time I've enjoyed the view from Gunsight, and it won't be the last. But on any hike there is always something new to see that you haven't seen in the past.

There is a stream that runs down the mountain side that has to be crossed on the way up and down the mountain, which I can never seem to cross it without getting wet. When the sound of running water reaches me from behind the dense chaparral scrub brush, I start to feel a little anxious about stepping from rock to rock over shin-high water. This time, though, a Douglas fir that had fallen in the few months since I'd last taken the trail provided the means by which I was able to keep my feet dry.

As I’m about to head back down the mountain, I hear a chirp every ten to fifteen seconds behind me. Turning around, I see a small blur rise high into the sky and then dive straight down before pulling up abruptly. It is at the moment where its flight path veers upward again that I hear the chirp of the Anna’s hummingbird. What I’m witnessing - as many of you probably know - is the mating ritual of the hummingbird; the chirp isn’t caused by any vocalization by the hummingbird, but by the spreading of its tail feathers that pulls the bird out of its dive.

Similarly to the golden poppies I saw along the trail, Anna’s hummingbird is common in other parts of Sonoma Valley. but there is something special about seeing it half a mile above sea level in a place where previously I had only seen turkey vultures and red tail hawks. When I hike someplace I’ve been before - just like frequenting the same gym - I know I will see, hear, and smell things that I've experienced previously. Just because I walk down the same trail, though, doesn't mean things will be exactly the same each time. Each trip to a gym is probably unique as well, but I would much rather quietly walk beside giant redwoods than awkwardly toil in a noisy box with sweaty people.