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What I Love About Summer

July 16, 2018

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Even though I never got a “real” classroom party due to the late-June-ness of my birthday, summer still means I get to celebrate another lap around the sun, these days with my mostly braided, mostly summer birthday-ed granddaughters:

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Other reasons to celebrate include the powerful urge to new growth exhibited by so many local plants right now; on a recent run, I was overwhelmed by all the crown sprouting–new growth from the root crown–growing on:

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Elderberry not only sprouting, but blooming!

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Cottonwoods recovering from last year’s “Canyon 2” fire

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Sycamore’s lovely fuzzy new leaves

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Higher up on the ridge: lemonade berry trying to survive

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I think this is a chamise shrub; most of them were scorched clean off the hillside.

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Laurel sumac sports the loveliest of fluffy skirts.

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This looks like a very old nolina (beargrass)–such an artfully gnarled stump!

 

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Prickly pear “ears to the ground*”

* This phrase sprouted into my consciousness as a result of a long-ago rendezvous with Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel” . . . as vivid a poem as I’ve ever come across.

 

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So many chaparral shrubs were torched into skeletons. No sprouting here.

I usually carry a scrap of paper and a pencil stub in case ideas bubble up during a run. Here’s my notes about “charred trunks,” “silhouettes of elbows” and “peeling crumbling” along with “mustard and cheat grass,” “gopher mounds” . . . just jumbled jotting for working on later, because I’ve discovered if I don’t pause and make notes while I’m out on the trail, all those good ideas last about as long as the poofs of dust my bare feet stir up.

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Every couple of months, our Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society publishes a newsletter; often I will get an email from the editor, Sarah Jayne, requesting a poem. HOW COOL IS THAT?! (Very cool, for those who aren’t familiar with the underwhelming life of a local nature poet.)

Sometimes I have one ready to send, but when I don’t, I take Sarah’s request as a helpful prompt to get my poetic rear in gear and write. Here’s the OC-CNPS published result of the trailside scribbles above (which scribbles I included in this blog post as a hat-tip to Austin Kleon’s helpful book Show Your Work):

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What else do I love about summer?

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Datura in the morning . . .

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. . . and Santiago Creek at the end of the day. (The weird white rope currently lines the post-wildfire trails that are one-by-one re-opening, in hopes folks will stay out of the burned hillsides so they can–if/when it rains–attempt to recover. The Canyon 2 Fire comes far too close on the heels of the 2007 Windy Ridge Fire, which also torched all of these hills in a fire regime that does not mimic the more natural 50+ years between fires, which the chaparral is well-adapted for. Devastation every 10 years? Not so much . . .)

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Wildfire reminiscing–NOT a favorite part of summer, so let’s get back on track: here I am last week, going back to age 10 again and having a blast in the ocean. Heading to the beach was a free way for my mom to get all us wild kids out of the house, so I remember lots of fun time on the sand and in the water, shiny with cocoa butter, listening to “Boss Radio: 93KHJ” on my pocket-sized transistor radio. Ah the sounds of 1969 . . .

Happy (summer-nostalgia-sprouting) trails!

 

 

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Guest essay “Lessons and Barefoot Adventures” gets published at TrailSisters.net + more barefoot wandering & writing fun!

June 23, 2018
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Sunset splashing at Lake Powell (photo by Tina Davidson)

Wow–what a fun couple of weeks on the road at Grand Canyon’s North Rim and beyond (including camping at Lake Powell). The trip started out in fabulous fashion: while I was heading up I-15 through Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, the encouraging folks at Trail Sisters had just published my latest essay “Lessons and Barefoot Adventures, for which I am grateful.

https://www.trailsisters.net/2018/06/07/lessons-and-barefoot-adventures/

Then I arrived at the North Rim, and spent a rewarding three days in the company of creative people who traipsed around the rim trails with me (and even ventured below the rim down the North Kaibab Trail on the last day), responding to all the wild writing prompts I had planned for our time together. Their marvelous, vivid, heartfelt responses reaffirmed once more (as if I needed reminding!) how much I love being in the company of writers. (Many thanks to the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute for giving me this annual opportunity! All are welcome to join the fun next year–my fifth workshop at the North Rim–from June 7-9, 2019).

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Cliff Spring inspiration  (Grand Canyon/North Rim)

One of the highlights of the week came while we were at the North Kaibab trailhead (after writing along the trail below): who should emerge from the canyon but John from Tuscon who had just CROSSED GRAND CANYON BAREFOOT!

What?! My club of one had suddenly doubled . . .

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. . . and then tripled later that afternoon when John’s friend Mark made it across as well.

Those two gentlemen had no idea how excited I was to meet them (well, maybe they got a hint of it when I ran into them at the end of their dinner at the North Rim Lodge and interrupted their salmon with way-too-many questions/stories/hugs).

Oh yeah–I’ve got plenty more road trip/hiking/barefoot photos/stories to come–after all, this was my first time sharing Grand Canyon with two of my grandkids!

In the meantime, I couldn’t resist pheeto-bombing (wink/nudge/get it? . . . my version of photo-bombing?) the back of the North Kaibab trailhead sign:

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Happy Summer (barefoot) Trails!

Seeing Red in the Chaparral: A Poem and Photos

May 25, 2018

During yesterday’s lovely barefoot lope up and down 90 minutes of ridge between Santiago Oaks and Irvine Regional Parks, I came across a(nother) balloon. Grrrr. Besides the questionable environmental value of free-floating metallic-plastic, the very stuff that makes balloons soar–helium–is a nonrenewable resource that is unmakeable by humans. 

So when I see balloon-trash along the trail, I see always see red metaphorically–and sometimes I see red literally:

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This reminded me of a poem which I wrote years ago that recently resurfaced for editing as I put together a(nother) manuscript of poems to electronically schlepp to publishers who this time will be so fascinated by my work that they will immediately drop all other projects to print 10,000 copies of my new collection (Desert In My Bones) which will then garner big reviews in (name as many prestigious book-reviewing publications here as you can; that didn’t take long, did it?) and even bigger sales. 

[Cue maniacal laughter.] 

While I’m waiting, and since my balloon-poem-prophecy had so amazingly come true yesterday, I decided to rummage through old photo files in hopes of dredging up all the other red things mentioned in the poem; yes, this is what the daily non-grind of retirement facilitates.

First the poem, then the images:

Seeing Red in the Chaparral

You feel California fuchsia’s
flaming trumpets sing:
summer has ripened

into sticky lemonade
berries, razzle-dazzle
to your tongue.

You laugh at the crazy flash
of Nuttall’s woodpecker
as he bristles his crimson toupee.

You flinch at danger
wings—lipstick-bright
tarantula hawk—

and danger fuzz: a scarlet
velvet ant (wasp
with unimaginable sting).

She zigs; you zag
past a sentinel
laurel sumac that reeks
of bitterness and home,

that carries in her crown
of splendid red-veined leaves:
a sparkly mylar heart balloon.

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Fuchsia trumpets: check

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Razzle-licious lemonade berries: check

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Toupeed woodpecker: check

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Fierce lady wasp: double-check (see my poem and video about this disturbing relationship here)

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Half check? This was the only velvet ant photo I could find in my files, but these fuzzy non-ant wasps come in shades of red as well. The females have stingers/no wings; males have wings/no stingers. Nickname? “Cow killer” ants, because when you get stung you just want to holler “Moo” and die.

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Colorful sprouts of laurel sumac: check-ity check check check. Although the balloon in the poem got lodged in a full-grown one of these pungent shrubs, the photo at the beginning of this post shows it in a Mexican elderberry.  Poetic license . . .

And since I was on a red roll, looking through ten+ years of photos, I had fun stumbling upon so much other lovely red stuff. Just don’t google “red things in nature” ‘cuz those images really make mine look blurry and bush-league. So be it:

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Red diamondback rattler in Weir Canyon.

Red tuna-fruits of the prickly pear–a delicacy for humans and coyotes, it seems.

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Red berry-like pomes (fruits) of the toyon.

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Red bracts of paintbrush–a polite root parasite that does not kill its host.

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Rusty-red buckwheat flowers–the Eriogonums are some of my favorite garden plants as the flowers change color and hang around for a long time. Plus: they are fabulous habitat providers–food and shelter in abundance for all kinds of small to tiny critters.

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Fascinating, hard-working deer plant, whose flowers change from yellow to reddish-orange upon pollination, steering pollinators in another direction. One of the best local plants for taking nitrogen out of the air and “fixing” it into the soil where plants can use it, this fire-follower helps prep the soil of burned areas for the rest of the plant community. Thanks, Deer Plant! You are too valuable to call Deer Weed!

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Two reds for the price of one: the stunning Red Rocks formation near Black Star Canyon and one of the ubiquitous anti-invitations to enjoy it.

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Sweet Southern Pink–I love these Silene laciniata, whose ephithet derives from the Latin word lacinia: “a thing torn” (the petals’ edges, get it? Like they’ve been trimmed with pinking shears? Who even knows what pinking shears are these days!).

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Here’s two reds I don’t like to see: flames below, Foscheck above being dumped in hopes of keeping yet another fire from re-burning areas that have been scorched by human-caused conflagrations far too often for them to remain healthy.

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Here’s a happier note to end on: the dependable end-of-May appearance of the delightful (and rare!) Intermediate Mariposa Lilies at the top of Barham Ridge.

Happy Spring Flower Trails! May all the red you see be a blessing and not a stressing . . .

 

Big (barefoot) Disappointment or Big (barefoot) Opportunity?

May 8, 2018
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Ha ha ha ha . . .

Before I retired–back when money was more plentiful than time–I had hopes/dreams/bucket-list-schemes of some day joining a trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.

Life happened; the river trip didn’t.

Then I retired–rich in time, but the $3000+ river trip price tag now made the idea laughably ludicrous.

THEN, last February, I got invited to be an assistant on an April 2018 river trip and get paid to help out in various ways, including leading nature journaling activities along the way. 

Yes, please.

THEN I read the extensive printout the commercial outfitter sent to participants, and discovered that everyone was required to have something on their feet AT ALL TIMES . . . on the boat, in camp, on side canyon hikes . . . confronting me with a choice: prioritize my foot freedom (and stay home), or swallow my shoeless pride and go on the river trip.

Yep. By being all mature and weighing the cost-benefit ratio, I eventually became . . . not thrilled, but at least OK with making the 10-day concession to wear my ratty sandals 24/7 (gosh, would be OK to sleep barefoot? I could only hope [apply sarcastic tone of voice to previous sentiment] ).

Thus I planned (bought paddle jacket/pants) and prepped (narrowed down and printed out some nature journaling exercises) and dreamed (how I dreamed!) away the days counting down to when I would hop in my truck at 4 am, head quite a few hundred miles east to Williams, AZ, where I would pick up my cheerful friend A.S. (Grand Canyon interpretive ranger and back country guide extraordinaire, also hired to assist on this trip), and then we would take a nice afternoon stroll 9.5 miles down the Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch where a lovely bed would await us due to A.S.’s extensive network of canyon friends; the next morning we would take our time meandering the river-hugging mile from Phantom Ranch to Pipe Creek beach where we would join the commercial trip for a glorious ten days through the [insert hyperbolic adjectives here] GRAND CANYON! WOO HOO!

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A view from upper Bright Angel Trail.

Now, cue the (dramatic, sad, violin-y) music. Go ahead, feel a little knot in your tummy. Better yet, feel your throat on fire and gallons of snot gushing forth from your nose, add an abdominal-straining cough, multiply by two weeks, and you will have had a genuine empathy-experience regarding what actually transpired. 

I made it (barefoot, of course!) as far as Indian Garden–five miles down the Bright Angel Trail–where we had a lovely spicy chicken dinner prepared by one of the workers there (it seems A.S. has friends all over Grand Canyon); as were finishing dinner, I could hear the wind increasing in howling intensity in the 30 F. canyon darkness outside the cozy employee housing; I’d been up since 3 am, and driven almost 500 miles (through that same screaming demon wind), and now my throat and sinuses were telling me something I didn’t want to hear, so I whimpered to A.S., “Maybe we could spend the night here instead of Phantom?” 

Did I mention that A.S. is one of the most cheerful and helpful people I know? Of course she agreed. Of course the kind folks at Indian Garden found us a place to sleep. Of course my throat-pain-and-snot kept me awake most of the windy night. Of course I had to make a very. Tough. Decision. (that first world privilege is showin’, yeah)

As soon as it was light–with a hope that there would be some kind of sun to warm my coughing carcass–I started trudging back up the Bright Angel Trail (barefoot, of course!).

A few miles up the trail, though (past Cardiac Curve; past Jacob’s ladder) a funny thing happened–I started to lose sensation in my toes. What?! Some kind of neuropathy associated with my horrific viral sinus condition? 

At the Three-Mile Resthouse (a composting toilet plus drinking water during the warmer months when there’s no danger of the pipes freezing which was not today), I paused long enough to snack and sip from the water I had brought with me, and happened to look up at the big round thermometer hanging over the rock shelter: 38 F. 

Well, duh. That’s why my toes were numb: it was freakin’ cold! 

There’s a few “barefoot mottos” I try to follow: one is “Numb is dumb” (as in, you’ll do serious damage to your toe tissue if you let them get/stay numb, dummy).

So I slipped on some wool socks and Sockwa X-8’s (a good WFR is always prepared), and continued the trudge up and up and up the 13-15% grade, under increasing cloud cover and chill (30 F. by the time I reached the 1.5-Mile Resthouse) and, eventually, a day of snow flurries.

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“Snowflakes keep fallin’ on my head braid, but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red”  (oh, wait, yes it does, ’cause in three more days you’ll come down with pink-eye as well)

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So . . .  the day after I drove 500 miles to the South Rim, it was time to drive home again, only this time I felt WAAAYYYY worse than I had 24 hours previous.

But wait–A.S. had extracted a promise from me to make a slight detour to her home in Flagstaff, where her two (adorbs!) guinea pigs needed me to feed them.  One cannot refuse a request from (extremely cheerful) A.S., so east I headed to Flag (what the locals call it, and which I never feel comfortable saying, since I’m not a local, but hey I’m just writing it, so it feels way less awkward, especially with this disclaimer. Flag Flag Flag.). 

East to Flag. Buy cilantro and celery. Feed guinea pigs. Spend the night in Flag  with the guinea pigs who didn’t seem to mind me blowing my nose and coughing (a lot).

Drive home.

Be sad you are missing the trip of a lifetime.

Be happy you managed to snag a last-minute cancellation at the peaceful and inspiring Dorland Mountain Arts Colony where you will spend Monday-Friday the next week blowing your nose and coughing (a lot) as well as wandering through spring wildflowers in the lovely Temecula sunshine and, especially: writing!

All barefoot!

Thus ends this overly detailed blog post about a time in my life that I would never blame on my fabulous 1-and-3-year-old grandkids who I nanny for eight days a month–the two cutest, most intelligent, loving, snot-filled/cough-infested/pink-eyed little darlings I know. I would never . . . 

(If you’re still with me: some photos of the amazing Dorland!)

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Where writing magic happens!

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The Markham “cabin” (above) . . . a place for peace and inspiration, and where I wrote two new poems that would never have come into being otherwise; I also had a good time selecting and ordering poems for a new manuscript (now at over 100 pages, so still in process).

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Morning fog over the Temecula Valley (view from my porch).

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The Bee Canyon trail/portal to another world . . . 

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All the Dorland monkeyflowers seemed to share this un-nameable (OK, someone has probably named it, but still) hue.

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The aptly named chaparral beardtongue.

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Sugarbush in bloom.

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Encelia in the sunshine.

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Spoorrific ferns in the shadows.

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A phacelia that I could not identify. And that was OK.

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A new “life list” plant along the Bee Canyon trail: Collinsia parryi: Blue-eyed Mary. 

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And a life-list bird along the same trail: Golden-crowned sparrow.

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After all the Grand Canyon hiking I’ve done, the sketchy, roped-up route up Dorland Mountain didn’t even faze me (mostly didn’t).

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The view from the Dorland Mountain trail.

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A dependable sunset show happens almost every day at Dorland—this is a view of the “other side” of the Santa Ana Mountains (which are to my east where I live in Orange County, CA).

Happy (disappointment to opportunity) trails!

Be It Ever So Local, There’s No Trails Like These . . .

April 3, 2018

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While I occasionally get a chance to escape crowded-traficky-loud Orange County (where the roar of the freeways will never be mistaken for ocean waves, although I try, and where the night is filled not with the siren call of coyotes but actual sirens, given the fact that we live by a Level III trauma hospital next to the Orange Crush, one of the craziest freeway interchanges in the US), since I’ve been wandering the trails of our local foothills for over 20 years, there’s something comforting about meandering up and down ridges where I know who blooms where and when. (And when I say “meander,” I mean it–see previous sentence for an example of my meanderthol expertise.)

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Our amazing local plants and animals are OK with a lot of variables, including the idea of “rainy season.” We all hold our breath during the (perfectly normal) rainless months of April, May, June, July, August, September and October, but come November, when local shrubs have exhausted most of their many dry-climate adaptations, and us humans are beginning to question our memories regarding this thing called “rain,” sometimes it happens. Or not. This year, not so much until a few inches between January and March.

I love this quote from a page about local climate:  “Rainfall, on average, is frequently below average.”

This little bit of late rain was just enough to coax a few wildflowers into bloom . . . far fewer than a wet winter would conjure up, but . . . enough to bring a sense of hope to the recently scorched hills east of Orange (Santiago Oaks Regional Park/Barham Ridge). Here’s just a few photos from earlier this week:

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Calochortus catalinae: Catalina Mariposa Lily,  a state-listed rare plant with the “threatened species” rank of 4.2.

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Purple-headed dichelostemma capitatum is having a BIG YEAR in the burned areas of Santiago Oaks Regional Park; here it is enjoying life in the company of California poppies, our much-beloved California state flower (which is considered an “invasive weed” in parts of Australia).

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Last month’s Orange County Chapter/California Native Plant Society presentation by local native plant expert Ron Vanderhoff made me really appreciate the fact that we have many tiny & wonderful California native plants; here’s an itty bitty beauty I would never have noticed if I had not heard Ron’s talk and been on the lookout: Southern Gilia (Saltugilia australis).  It’s got BLUE POLLEN! What?!

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While huge swaths of prickly pear habitat were decimated by the recent Canyon Fire 2 (which was allowed to grow into monster size due to multiple human errors, not-one-but-two recent reports have shown, much to the dismay of 9,200 acres of destroyed habitat) some of the less-charred carcasses are managing to sprout new pads. Here’s hoping our local cactus wrens will be able to make do . . .

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Here’s another view of a sprouting cactus patch in the midst of what was once a thriving coastal sage scrub community; now all you see is a sea of green evil: mostly non-native invasive grasses and habitat-destroying plants such as black mustard and tecolote.

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Poppies and dichelostemma amid the burnt skeletons of laurel sumac and/or lemonade berry. Sigh.

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Poppies up here, smog and noise and traffic down there.

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Stinging lupine (Lupinus hirsutissimus): stunning in its beauty and ouch-ful-ness.

 

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And another local path lined with lupine: my back yard, where I can wander a few feet in each direction, surrounded by California native plants and the rush of traffic on nearby freeways. (Yep. Multiple freeways come together near here: the 5 and the 22 and the 57, just like the Californians told you.)

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It may seem odd to treat these lovely lupine like weeds, but they are way too prolific in captivity–the rabbits of the native plant world–and need to be edited out occasionally to keep the air moving around the Dudleya (three species of this favorite native succulent appear here if you know what to look for).

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The subject of a presentation I enjoy giving (complete with slideshow; book now and receive half off the normal price of free!): plant native habitat in your urban yard and the critters–including super-cool birds like this common yellowthroat–will have a home (or, in the case of this bird, an important stop on their migration path). (PS Despite the “common” in its name, it is not at all common to come across this species in such an urban yard setting.)

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Another rare, recent visitor: a Townsend’s warbler, who seems to be having way too much fun in the fountain just outside our dining room window, where we have way too much fun bird watching throughout the day. Season. Year(s).

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Thus ends another hike–and another blog post.  There’s so much beauty & wonder “out there”–and not only far away “out there,” but sometimes right in your back yard . . . or only a short drive away.

Happy wandering your own LOCAL trails!

PS Oops . . . I almost forgot the other half of this blog title . . . not just “wandering” . . . BAREFOOT wandering! Happy barefoot trails!

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Antelope Canyon Ultra 50 Mile Race Report: A Barefoot Story of Success or Failure?

March 23, 2018

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It’s been a month since the 2018 Antelope Canyon Ultra 50-Mile (AC50)–a month of procrastinating, during which my to-do list has included, each day, “write blog post.” Thus far each day has ended with that item still not crossed off.

While my inner mental health inspector would like to unsnarl that delay-behavior necklace for a few thousand words, practical blogger-me says, “Just write something so you can get back to posting those muddy barefoot selfies your Eastern European followers seem to enjoy so much.”

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Peter’s Canyon last week. Hooray for rain in So Cal!

But I wanted to give this race the blog post it deserves, since, for me, the AC50 was a fraught, freighted, far-reaching event, something I’ve aimed at since 2004, those benighted old shod days when I was a 44-year-old innocent with a vision to run “50 miles when I turn 50.”

So just before I turned 45, I tried a 20-mile trail race on for size–part of the Bishop High Sierra Ultra, at one of my favorite high and dry places–the Eastern Sierra Nevada–during which I discovered both the exquisite cuisine of aid stations (blueberry pancakes!) and the excruciation my left knee was/is capable of inflicting on my psyche.

The left-knee healing trajectory since then: more of a meander than any kind of story arc, through all kinds of physical medicine $pecialities/test$/treatment$: orthopedic surgeon (MRI + a few rounds of Synvisc injections); traditional physical therapy (quad-strengthening exercises, etc), non-traditional chiropractic (ART therapy: somewhat helpful, but way pricey); acupuncture (several sessions; not much progress, but super interesting to experience needles stuck all over me); Rolfing (my lower back was giving me fits as well, and Rolfing is a whole-body therapy that satisfied my increasing appetite for any authorized pain that I thought would help me get better); Pilates (which finally started me on the right track: our first session had me in tears as I tried to follow instructions about breathing and realized I had zero connection to my body); and finally (based on referrals from my Pilates instructor) a multidisciplinary physical therapy approach (Knight Physical Therapy ) as well as Feldenkrais sessions, both individual work and group classes that (finally!) have led me to all kinds of neuromuscular-mindbody insight/freedom of movement/joyful running.

Whew.

In the middle of this muddle, I happened upon some barefoot outdoors-people at a 2010, mid-winter, bird behavior workshop. While I don’t remember a whole lot of birdy facts from that day, I do remember being perplexed as to why anyone would be shoeless in January.

As so often it happens in my life, this gift of befuddlement then led me to researching: “barefoot hiking,” “barefoot running” . . . and then . . . doing it!

Voila? Shazaam? Bazinga?

No more knee pain? I lived & ran happily ever after? I reached my 50-mile race goal at the Antelope Canyon Ultra last month? (Imagine all this in the High Rise Terminal accents of a Kardashian).

Craps and tarnation (Cue Yosemite Sam ) : that’s not exactly how these last eight shoeless years have played out.

Yeah, I’ve come a long way since the days I could not even jog three steps without severe left knee pain. (Thanks be to God!)

I did manage to enjoy a 1:04:44 10k last summer, preceded by a 10:41:31 50k at Monument Valley in March 2016.

The 10k was fabulous–I started out really slow (as in, walking fast slow), and just kept gaining momentum, finishing with an Olympic-worthy sprint effort as my face almost split with grinning. Six miles–a distance that seemed absolutely impossible to run for so many knee-painy years–and I was able to enjoy every lovely leapy step.

The 50k distance, though, proved to be a lot more challenging. Something there is that does not love an ultra, and by mile 18 my left knee was complaining loudly. I managed to walk most of the rest of the 16 miles, but it was discouraging. My magic mojo secret barefoot recipe had failed me. WTF and back to researching chronic pain that had NO UNDERLYING PHYSICAL reason .

OK. Got it. Need to get my mind-body groove on. Figure out what my Inner Children are trying to tell me. See what kind of past traumas Dr. Van der Kolk says I need to become aware of.

And neither last nor least, get a grip on how to connect to “the wisdom of the body” 

My last couple of years is littered with way more books than the few mentioned above, but this story arc is clear: an amazing learning curve up from pain and limited movement and on toward the previously mentioned joyful physical inhabitation of my days.

(For brevity’s sake I’ll not mention my osteoporosis–“brittle bone disease”–and the accompanying relational schizzness that this issue continues to require. Forgiveness, anyone?)

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One of my favorite typos ever: “Osteoporosis–bitterness and breaking down of the bones . . . “

So this is now officially the longest ultra race report introduction ever–an ultra, ultra preface, if you will, all to set the stage for a beautiful day in the desert on Navajo land outside of Page, AZ, on a loopy course overlooking Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, two days after a late-winter snow storm frosted the buttes and mesas with a powdering of puffy stuff that immediately melted and melded the otherwise deep sandy race course into a firmly packed surface of damp loveliness–the most barefoot friendly surface in the shoeless universe. (Except for the eight miles of trail-less rock between the Horseshoe Bend and Waterholes aid stations. A big except.)

With 6 am racetime temps in the 20s, my face hurt (Flashback to childhood joke: “Does your face hurt? It’s killing me!”) and my toes would have frozen right off except for the Sockwa X8’s I was wearing into which I stuffed packets of Grabber Hand Warmers . Did I mention I’ve only lived in sunny/warm/mild Orange County my entire life, and thus never ever felt compelled to go running when temps are in a range that MAKES MY FACE HURT?!

Soon after the frigid in-the-dark start, the first of many climbs confronted us 250+ runners. So, like, I thought this was a running race? (back to upspeak mode) And we’d be, like, running on trails that were runnable with our feet? Not climbing up sheer sandstone with our hands?

Sure, they had advertised this as a race through slot canyons, with a ladder figuring prominently in the pre-race publicity photos.

But I’m 58 years old, and my rock-scrambling skills a bit rusty (circa Joshua Tree 1969). So I busted out my inner 10-year-old (the happy outdoorsy one, not the one with parental attention issues), and actually did fine on all the climby sections except one slot canyon ledge, up which I was grateful to “ummph” with the aid of an outstretched racer-friend’s hand.

Those superhero ladies! A group of seven of us somehow glommed together in the back of the pack during the stressful, trail-less 8-mile stretch previously mentioned, and we stuck together for hours, which provided 14 eyeballs to scan the endless rock jumble landscape for scraps of pink or silvery ribbon to lead us up and over the next set of boulder piles. And after that we lent each other a hand or two clambering up Waterholes Canyon’s sketchy ladders and layered red sandstone pour-offs.

To this point I had not said a word about how much MYLEFTKNEEHURTS, and the other ladies were mum regarding anything in their lives that wasn’t hunky-dory as well, but it seems it wasn’t just me that was havin’ issues, and at mile 33.5, the second pass through the Horseshoe Bend aid station, four of us grimly unpinned our race numbers, passed them to the aid station worker in charge of such matters, and waited for a shuttle to take us back to the start/finish line at the Page Amphitheater.

(Truth in storytelling note: OK, I did start verbalizing disappointment in my knee at about mile 30, but only after 27 non-complaining miles of pain At Every Step. And I wasn’t all that sad to quit the race when I did; I’d been out on the trail for 10.5 hours already, dark was approaching, and the cold day was getting colder–I could only imagine what another 16.5 miles in the chillysome dark would be like when my pace was limited to the speed of “ouch” with no way to go fast enough to keep warm. Then there was the minor issue of tasting something odd and bloody in my mouth all day, which turned out to be a major flap I’d bit loose on the surface of my tongue chomping on some of that amazing aid station food, in this case: bacon-avocado roll-ups.)

And that’s a wrap in the latest episode of a drama that has been going on since 2004: me run, me happy, me knee owie, me no run, me sad. (Hmmm . . . my long days of grand-kiddo care this past school year might be rubbing off linguistically.)

Bottom line: yeah, we get it, you didn’t quite run 50 miles last month. Is that it? There’s nothing else at stake in all of this? (For we all know good storytelling requires high stakes .) Sheesh, Thea, it’s not a matter of life or death. Get over it, put on some !#(*#-ed shoes, for cryin’ out loud, ENOUGH of the running already, accept that you’re getting old, and oh yeah make sure you keep yourself plopped in front of an electronic screen more and more each day.

Maybe it is a matter of life or death.

(Cue dramatic music. OK, I just have to say I loved how that ending happened. And now for a boatload of race photos. Happy (barefoot, snowy) Trails!)

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The Page RV Park, the morning before the race. Snow in the desert!

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Frosted prickly pear.

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Tower Butte in Lake Powell, frosting-style.

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OK this is getting ridiculous . . .

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Before the AC50, Husbando and I spent a week at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon; I attended (and presented at) a two-day seminar for hiking guides, after which I spent three days testing/learning for my Wilderness First Responder certification. Finally, I had the privilege of speaking about my poetry and life to a couple of classes at the local school, where elk share the athletic field.

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We had a nice snowstorm at the South Rim, and lots of our practice first-aid scenarios (here I’m getting a fake leg fracture splinted) took place in blowing snow. Or, on the last day, sunny snow.

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Stirrups, J’s, and Figure 8’s: how to stabilize an ankle. Got it.

early morning traffic jam trail run

Then there was that AC50 to tackle. It was “yikes” from the get-go, with a start in the dark that turned into an immediate bottleneck/climb. Oh well . . . that was the last I got to hang out with all these fast folks for the rest of the day.

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I started the race in my Sockwa X8’s (the ground was frozen solid. Super yikes.) but was able to run most of the miles shoeless–except for sections of the infamous eight-mile scramble between the Horseshoe Bend and Waterholes aid stations. So much beautiful stripey sandstone.

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It’s difficult to describe how delicious this sand is (once it warmed up to 40 degrees).

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Uh, yeah. This is the trail. Yeah.

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Here is my new friend Tricia peering down into Horseshoe Bend–most of the photos of me were taken by her, which was so much easier than setting up my camera, running by, etc. Tricia was amazing . . . besides her love for looking over edges, she also had the guts to finish the 50-mile race, even though she was reduced to a walk as well for much of it. An inspiring person to hang out with!

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Horseshoe Bend: here is probably the crappiest photo on the internet of this spectacular place, but the little person taking a selfie gives a bit of scale anyway.

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See the pink ribbon? Yep. That’s the trail, in this case an interesting bit of icy morning singletrack. It was so cold (“how cold was it?”) that the bite valves froze on my chest-mounted water bottles and I had to crunch and chew them to get the very very very cold water to flow. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d have the pleasure of writing.)

 

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The Navajo Generating Station looms (dare I write it? “both literally and figuratively”) over the city of Page, the Navajo Nation, and the race course. Here’s Aid Station #1; I had to make it there within certain time frame or the Grim Reaper would catch up to me and make me drop out of the race. Well, I beat the Reaper by a whopping 15 minutes here, and by an hour four hours later at the next (and final) Grim Reaper checkpoint. Yay me.

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Speaking of poor quality images–this one still delights me. It was an amazing day (worthy of my colorful silk scarf) and I tried to smile a lot in appreciation 🙂

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Are we done yet? Although I didn’t finish the 50 miles I’d signed up for, they still let me have a 55k finisher award: 33.5 miles=close enough? (And that’s the sunlit buttes of Lake Powell in the background.)

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Are we there yet? The loong drive home begins with this stunning view of the Big Ditch running almost imperceptibly right to left through the middle of the photo, with House Rock Valley winding its way between the Paria Plateau (right) and the Kaibab Plateau (snow-capped).  See you this summer, favorite places!

 

Time to celebrate 8 years of barefoot running and hiking . . . with a 50-mile race?

January 25, 2018

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Back in January 2010, a chance encounter with some barefoot folks during a cold winter morning birding class led to me being 1) Amused that anyone would be silly enough to go shoeless outdoors and 2) Interested in WHY anyone would want to do this.

As per my entire life, “interest” opened the door to research, which led me down this crazy barefoot path that still stretches out ahead of me . . . I hope until the day my toes go cold for good.

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Long before I had any interest in running barefoot, I was obsessed with just plain running–especially trail running–and in 2004 (at age 44) I set myself a goal of training for and completing a 50-mile trail race by the time I was 50.

Fast-forward through 14 years of chronically intermittent aches and pains (feet, knees, hips, low back, neck, you name it), through 14 years of all kinds of physical therapy and learning about less-obvious causes/cures, to the wonderful-ness of TODAY, when I am only a month away from the starting line of an awesome desert ultra-marathon, and–by the grace of God–feeling more healthy and fit and ready to run 50 miles than I ever have been (ha–or at least the “ever” that I can remember, my memory being a slowly eroding riverbank through the gully of my life).

Even in my 20s, probably my peak fitness years, when I was training in a gym and racing off-road motorcycles, I might have been stronger in terms of lifting power, but I know I could not have busted out the weekly 3-4 hour runs I’ve been doing the last few months with such enjoyment–and very little soreness etc. the next day.

So here’s to 2018, to being 58 years old and able to do my first chin-up on a bar in decades, and having a 50-mile challenge looming to look forward to.

(Truth in training note: it seems I should be up to runs a bit longer than 3-4 hours at this point in the training cycle, but Christmas. Family. Excuses.)

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Here’s me & the granddaughters at the live-cut Christmas tree farm east of town. What’s up with all these boots?!

Below is a run-through of images from the last month-or-more . . . stuff I’ve had good intentions of posting on this-here blog right after each run. Hmmm. My aerobic exhilarations most definitely overshadow my blogging aspirations . . .

. . . Aspirations that have included schemings & ponderings on some-if-not-all of the following topics since the last post:

— Trying to stick to a race training schedule through the December holiday season

— Wildfires and rain and mudslides, oh my

— End-of-2017: musings on the year that was

— Equally deep beginning-of-2018 anticipation/trepidation

— Being the mother of a 42-year-old?! (his January birthday gets me every time)

— Running more than three hours, and the accompanying mind games; my longest run to date (almost two years ago): 34 miles in 10.75 hours. Looking forward? to? 50? miles?

— The idea that our worth as an individual is based on our productivity (this is a deep and wide thought-stream for yours truly, especially as retirement finds me without all the academic objective-outcome falderal)

— How much fun it is to while away an afternoon playing scales on a guitar using a variety of fingerings (see comment immediately above)

— Dealing with obsessive thoughts (watch the news, anyone?) using newly discovered “awareness” techniques. Yay for lifetime learning.

— The Alexander method and its intersection with running

— What constitutes a good list, really? (Knowing when to cut to the photos)

 

 

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In the fire-denuded foothills, living creatures are few, so I appreciated this photo op with a Jerusalem cricket (which is neither a cricket nor from Jerusalem, but a non-venomous nocturnal creature capable of “emitting a foul smell and inflicting a painful bite” . . . sound like anyone you know?).

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No, I was not a victim of a Jerusalem cricket attack, just my own momentary inattention to a submerged rock-iceberg on the trail.

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When my feet are free from open wounds, nothing feels better than a dip.

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This photo is un-retouched in terms of color . . . it’s just an ashy world out there in Weir Canyon where fire burned last fall. But, making its way back into the gray landscape: roadrunner!

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The New Year dawned with this familiar face looking down on all the newly scorched hills, ridges, arroyos.

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Another day, another moonscape. Here is a prickly pear that “survived” total annihilation, but what of its photosynthetic future?

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With most of the vegetation scorched off the face of the hills, these spunky Nolina are a green inspiration.

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And then it rained! Green days are on the way!

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Local rains caused a few minor ash flows like this, but nothing along the lines of the Montecito devastation. Lord have mercy.

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For a four-hour cruise, this has become my new favorite place. (And note the proximity of homes to burn area .)

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Some intricate Weir Canyon geology, sans vegetation.

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I’m not sure what “winter” means any more, there’s been so many warm days lately.

Happy Barefoot Trails in 2018 . . . may it be a year of new growth!

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