Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Attitude Shift

I was the second child. As the youngest I seemed to spend my entire childhood wanting to be older, bigger, stronger. I hated hearing my parents say, "when you're older." I wanted to be older…now! Birthdays got me closer, but never there. Little sister was my tag.

Then I was an adult. 18 candles was all it took and suddenly I was thrown into a new game. Instantly my happiness index was based on my youthful appearance. With cultural pressure and the passing years I tried to keep the wrinkles away and the body fit. The advertisers prayed on my vulnerability telling me that youth is life's Big Enchilada.

Then a strange thing began to happen. I started to notice an attitude sift. I yearned to stop fretting about growing old. At 75 I'm not fooling anyone about my age anyway. I can pose and smile and adjust the light all I want but the truth looks back at me in the mirror.

Photographs of very old men and women have captivated me for years. You know the ones. Wrinkled faces that look like mountain ranges, yet with so much character you want to sit down and have a deep conversation with them. These faces belong to people who look both vulnerable and strong; wise and innocent; and very, very appealing.

I seek an age-neutral freedom. Not in defiance of age but to embrace life. Both Ed and I are determined to avoid sinking into a cryonic-torpor-of-old. We'll move onward, so long as we can...

We're traveling the narrow back roads of California, off Highway 166, between Santa Maria and Taft. We hear only nature's sounds, see no lights, and have very few services.

We bump and rattle to our night's camp on a road that went from narrow and paved to narrower and gravel. We love roads like this. We enjoy the edgy touch of anxiety. We thrill in the surprises we find. The tiny campground we occupy has six spots but it's just us. We hear an owl off in the distance.

The next day we leave Higway 166 for Highway 33, relocating to the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The bumpy, washboarded road we travel within the monument is parallel to the San Andreas Fault.

We're hoping no earthquake strikes tonight as our camp is not far from the fault. I'm not wanting to be swallowed by the earth the way the Darlingtonia swallows flies.

Carrizo Plain National Monument is dramatic and beautiful in an another-world sort of way. It is an inward draining basin. The rain runoff flows to Soda Lake. We hike a couple of trails, walk the boardwalk at Soda Lake, and try to follow the path of the San Andreas Fault. The wildlife, promised in abundance, has been evasive but the Western Meadowlarks and Horned Larks made up for it with their generous serenading.

Further along, as we head for Ojai and a visit with Skip and Sheila, Highway 33 earns it's name, The Petroleum Highway.  The beautiful rolling hills become oil-drilling ugly.

Then 33 turns beautiful again as we enter the Los Padres National Forest. The Rose Canyon waterfalls and campground are our destination. Sadly, the campground is closed until mid March, but the falls, just a short hike, are beautiful.

Next stop, Wheeler Springs National Park, just out of Ojai.

The Los Padres National Forest and the Sespe Watershed make up the largest roadless tract of land, next to a large metropolitan area, in the lower 48 states. This is rugged country with vast networks of equestrian and hiking trails.

As a little girl, living in Ojai, my family hiked many of these trails. I can't remember which ones, but I do remember my dad carrying our dog, Poochie, out of a canyon after one ill-fated hike. Poochie was one of those dogs that ran and ran, every which way, when we hiked. Probably he was the dog that leashes were designed for, but I'm not sure we even owned a leash back then, living way out in the country as we did.

This hot, dry landscape is perfect habitat for rattlesnakes and our little dog ran right into one. I dealt with death that day as my family mourned the loss of Poochie to three rattler bites on his little face. You can bet, when Ed and I are hiking, I keep Benton close at hand and have my snake-senses tuned to high alert.

Ojai is in our sights. Internet service again! And, Skip and Sheila.


“Just 'cause there's snow on the roof doesn't mean there's not a fire inside.”

~ Bonnie Hunt

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Big Sur Drama

After visiting family and friends in the Bay Area we head for the coast. It's a windy day as we take to the backroads of the Santa Cruz mountain, exploring and avoiding freeways, on our way to the sea.

After leaving the mountains, heavy sheets of rain and wild bursts of wind are with us much of the way. And, just for our driving pleasure, dense fog blankets the road from time-to-time as well. Branches blow across our path, sometimes an entire tree occupies a lane. The surf, wild and dangerous, is on our right swirling and broiling. We sway and swing in Thistle as we grope our way down the Big Sur coast highway. On our left the high cliffs slide onto the road as the heavy rain weakens them. The only thing that could make the driving more dangerous is night-time dark, and it was approaching quickly. As we drive, I check each pull-out as a potential boondock site. We're not sure the campground we seek, Limekiln State Park, will have sites available or even if it is open for the season.

The park is open and we have a spot to camp. We are happy as we settle in. The pounding of wind and rain accompany our dinner preparations and on Ed's short walk to register us he got soaked. Our reward for a hard day's drive is popcorn. Aw, the good life! Of course being dry and warm and cozy are high on our list of pleasures too.

When we wake, after a night of heavy wind and rain, the sky is blue and the wind is gone. A short-lived pleasure, just long enough for the dog to pee, before the rains begin again. California needs this rain so we are happy with it but we're even more happy we aren't in a tent like the folks camped next to us.

Limekiln State Camp is small with only 24 spaces.  There is a rustic charm to this camp right on the ocean, tucked in under a Highway 1 bridge. Don't even think about cell service though.

As we head to Morro Bay the sun comes out.

Along our route we stop to view Elephant Seals at the Piedras Blancas rookery. Although they are never all there at the same time, the estimated population is 23,000. Males grow to 5,000 lbs., females to 1800; and pups are born at 60 to 80 lbs. but when weaned at 28 days they will already weigh between 250 and 350 lbs.

You can help with the preservation of Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony: Friends of the Elephant Seal, P.O. Box 490, Cambria, CA 93428

“The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.”
~ Rachel Carson

The Lost Coast

Ed and I found the Lost Coast a few years back and lost our hearts to this section of the California coast. The drive is rugged and slow. The road is narrow, twisting, steep, and pot-holed. Slides are frequent. Open range cattle wander onto the road. Deer are common. The reward is huge. Breathtaking views and isolation is all-surround quiet. Our first trip to the Lost Coast was with pup Roshi (before Annie and before Benton). We were still tent camping. Looking back at our night's adventure makes us giggle to this day.

Dark was quickly approaching. We, of course, had no idea where we were or what was around the next bend in the road. We were lost in the raw splendor of this wild place. We could see from our map there were no services so we searched for a good place to pitch a tent. There it was. A grassy-sandy field along side the ocean. Ed, me and the dog, gathered up our gear, crawled through the barbed wire fence and headed for our campsite.

Setting up camp was a blowing-wind challenge, with the wind taking hold of our tent and tossing it every which way. I finally got inside the collapsed tent to hold it down so Ed could secure the corners. I don't remember all the details but I do remember a very long night. The wind blew so relentlessly the sand under our tend was blown away leaving only a narrow patch of grass. The three of us were left clinging to this thin grassy strip as if we were on a narrow mountain ridge. The tent's zipper gave way sometime during the night resulting in the relocation of the sand from under out tent to inside our tent, or so it seemed.

The morning brought calm. We peered out anticipating a beautiful ocean view but saw huge eyes staring back at us. The pasture was inhabited and the inhabitants were very curious. We found ourselves eye to eye with a dozen cattle. Our challenge now was to exit the tent, break camp, and get back to our car, unscathed. Naturally Roshi wanted to give chase so along with watching our backs, arms full of gear, crawling through a fence, an overly enthusiastic dog was wrapping his leash around our ankles.

We keep returning to the Lost Coast. Thistle has replaced the tent; Benton has replaced Roshi; and age has replaced youth, but our hearts sing still as we search for our boondock site for the night.


In the name of the bee
And of the butterfly
And of the breeze, amen!
~ Emily Dickinson

Darlingtonia Wonder

Conversation lulls as the miles pass. My mind wanders. The small-living movement captures my thoughts as a tiny cottage races in and out of my vision. I glance over at Ed, his eyes focused on the road, and I fantasize about the development of the electronically controlled automobile so we could both gaze at the views, as from a train. Technological advances supplying our energy needs tease my imagination. We pass a clear cut---ugly, destructive---but better than the ones of my childhood. Seed trees remain for natural reforestation and there are irregular edges to help with the aesthetics.

In a conversation Ed had with a man in the laundromat in Oregon, at Brookings, we learned of the Smith River National Recreation Area on Highway 199. We swung onto 199 as a side trip this morning and were delighted as the laundromat man promised we would be...huge redwoods, a complex and healthy understory, and along side the road an emerald green river raging through the woods encased in stone cliffs.

A sign caught our attention, "Botanical Trail". No way were we going to drive by such an enticing invitation. Besides, Benton was focused on us with those "please let's walk" eyes. The trail was a short loop and many of the promised botanical treasures were on display. We saw the early spring foliage of Vancouveria and Lady Slippers were just emerging. Signage promised Trillium, but I was unable to see even the tiniest signs of foliage so early in the season. And then we spotted a colony of Darlingtonia.

Darlingtonia is a insect-eating plant growing in the wetlands of Southern Oregon and Northern California. As one might expect it is an endangered species because of wetland degradation over the past many decades.

The complexity of this plant's system for enjoying a good meal is fascinating. First it temps an insect to enter it's bulb-like flower by serving up a sweet nectar. Once the insect enters it cannot exit the same way it entered because filaments block the exit. At the same time the insect is attracted to the light coming in at the top of the "bulb" so flies toward the light. At the top of the bulb a slippery surface causes the victim to slip to the bottom where it is drowned in microorganism-infused water. The microorganisms in the water digest the drowned insect for the eating pleasure of the plant.

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
~ Aldo Leopold