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A Break in the Rain = Wildflowers!

February 10, 2017

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So much rain this winter: 13.61 inches! 205 % of normal for this time of year!

I managed to hit the Irvine Park trails this afternoon, before the next round of stormy weather (it’s raining again now as I write this). To my surprise and delight the poppies had popped on some south-facing slopes near Barham Ridge.

While the sight of mass blooms of Eschscholzia californica is an iconic, beloved sight for Californians, this plant is considered an invasive weed in many parts of Australia where it spreads so aggressively that it chokes out native plant habitat.

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This image shows poppies and pesky pink Erodium; imported to the US from the Mediterranean in the 18th century, this ubiquitous invasive is edible, although I have not tried it. 

The trail traffic was Friday-light; the wildflowers were spring-intense (even though it’s only February and many parts of the US are blizzarding this week). Here’s a few (with my best guesses at identification):

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Parry’s phacelia (Phacelia parryi)

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Common phacelia (Phacelia distans)

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California wood-sorrel (Oxalis californica) These few clusters are the only occurrences of these I’ve ever seen in this part of OC. Recent activity to widen the single-track has me worried about their fate.

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The wood-sorrel and its neighbor prickly pear on a steep east-facing slope.

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No bloom yet, but the distinctive blunt-tipped narrow leaflets lead me to suspect this is a Collar lupine (Lupinus truncatus).

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It’s easy to just dismiss all little white flowers as generic “popcorn flowers.” I’ll hazard a guess: Cleveland cat’s-eyes (Cryptantha clevelandii). 

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Don’t taste this! Deadly nightshade comes in 19 “flavors” (species) in California, “more than half of which are introduced weeds” (according the indispensable reference Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains).

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California wishbone bush (Mirabilis laevis). Mirabilis = wonderful in Latin) Yes, a wonderfully lovely plant.

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They’re everywhere! School bells are ringin’ in the wildflower new year! (Dichelostemma capitatum)

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Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus). Another name is “man-root” because the vine sprouts out of a giant underground tuber-potato.

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It’s not spring until the wild morning glories trumpet forth. Ta-da!

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Lemonadeberry in bloom means there will be tart fruit to taste in a few months . . . like sour lemon candy. The leaves are super-astringent; I read somewhere that earlier People would chew the leaves to stimulate saliva when they were out on long treks without drinking water. 

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Not in bloom yet, but this coastal cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia prolifera) is just as fat and sassy and happy with all the rain as all its  chaparral neighbors. 

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Waxing wonderful! Wow! This laurel sumac’s new growth is just as stunning as the most vivid wildflower.

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One final view over the poppy field; below is the rain-flooded willow wilds behind Villa Park Dam. 

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Time to get that camera timer ticking . . . it’s hard to capture how giggly I am to be RUNNING again after almost four months of lower-right-fibula stress-fracture recovery. I am grateful for God’s good gifts of rocks and flowers and steep trails on this, the third anniversary of my dad’s death. 

Happy wild-and-flowery trails!

 

 

 

Guest Poem for January

January 29, 2017

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With permission from a local writer . . . a lovely poem (which inspired me to find images to accompany it on its internet journey):

January
by Diane Dorman

I walk in amber aura
of sun filtered leaves,
golden palmate,
still clinging to sycamore trees.
Wet sand from the trail
coats my bare feet:
our California winter.

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Wow–in just a few lines, Diane captured so much of what I love: winter sycamore, sun (leaves), walk-trail, wet . . . bare feet!

Thanks, Diane; I appreciate that you thought to send me your work . . . it made my day (and now I hope it can brighten up others with a bit of our California gold).

A few more images of golden light from yesterday . . . post-last-weekend’s-deluge:

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Behind the Villa Park Dam: suddenly, water!

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Four days of rain last week really transformed my favorite trails (transformed meaning “submerged” for the area called The Willows)

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Ceanothus in bloom: springtime in January . . . in Southern California.

Happy (wet and wild) Winter Trails!

 

 

 

 

Seven lessons learned in seven years of barefoot hiking/trail running

January 16, 2017

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In January 2010 I attended a local bird-watching workshop and noticed some of the attendees were shoeless. Fascinated (and puzzled as to why anyone would want to go barefoot in winter), I returned home to research. What I found littering the rocky landscape of the interweb convinced me to try barefoot running as a way to (finally?!) overcome my nemesis: chronic left knee pain dating back to a 20-mile trail race in 2004.

Seven years later, the knee pain is long gone. I have a really long braid. My grandkids don’t always wear shoes (even in winter).

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Son, grandkids, grand-dog: not a shoe to be seen

I’m taking early retirement at the end of this semester to write and hike barefoot even more than I already do.

To celebrate all the good weirdness that losing my shoes has brought into my life, I came up with the highly original idea to make a list of seven barefoot-related lessons, one for each year of fun. (Warning: I am neither doctor, psychologist, nor orca trainer. Implement these lessons at your own risk.)

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Lesson #1

There is more to life than following conventional wisdom.

Stiff shoes, high boots: neither are necessary to enjoy trail running, hiking, or back packing–even six-day adventures up and down steep, rocky Grand Canyon trails.

As with other muscle groups, strong feet/ankles develop via use, not immobilization (hiking boots = ankle girdles/foot coffins).

Throughout years of getting strong via many hours of shoeless trail time, my capable feet have enjoyed the following Grand Canyon adventures (mostly shoeless, but some in lightweight sandals when I’m being paid to backpack with a group as WFR): four rim-to-rims; week-long backpacking trips to Havasu Falls, Boucher Creek, and Thunder River; and quite a few “short” overnight trips to Bright Angel Camp and Cottonwood Camp (each seven miles below the rim of the Canyon).

In 2016, I also completed my first trail ultra (50k through the Navajo Reservation at Monument Valley) mostly barefoot, with Sockwas for places where pokey stickers were too much to handle.

Question: what other areas of our lives do we need to question conventional wisdom? If Big Phalanges (shoe/boot companies) are wrong about the need for shoes to enjoy trails, where else might we have reason to speculate/hyperventilate about conspiracies to keep us consuming unnecessary shizz?

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Barefoot KenBob and his barefoot companion.

Lesson #2

Many fellow hikers/runners/bikers out on the trails feel compelled to say something about my lack of footwear.

Question: why the huge need to state, “You’re barefoot.”? As if:

a) I don’t know this and/or

b) Their verbalization will somehow change the situation to something they can wrap their Big-Phalanges-brainwashed mind around.

Recently I’ve heard more than a few “How do you do that? I can’t even go barefoot in my living room.”

Bonus question: is it difficult for me not to launch into a diatribe when I hear this.

Answer: Yes. Yes, it is. (But I don’t, these days, having learned over the last seven years that folks really don’t want me to reply with a sermon-on-the-mountain; they just need a safe space to verbalize their dismay at my unconventional lifestyle/shoestyle choice.)

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Lesson #3

Barefoot running offers no guaranty for curing or preventing running injuries.

My physical therapy doctor can vouch for this during any one of my many regular visits to play whack-a-mole with my owie-du-jour.

Q: How was your barefoot trail running going before your stress fracture last October?

A: Pretty darn good. Best in my 57-year existence.

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Limping along with friend Gina at Irvine Park last week.

Lesson #4

Even when injured (that pesky lower right fibula stress fracture being the most recent and by far the worst so far), limping along on a trail barefoot is better than doing most anything with shoes on.

Q: Are you back to barefoot trail running again?

A: Yep. [Cue “Still Crazy After All These Years“] I continue to inter-web my brains out looking for the magic key to unlock they mystery of my chronic running/life aches and pains, and I continue to be fascinated by the connections of not only gait mechanics, but psychological/mind-body factors in chronic pain. (And I thank God I can trail run barefoot again!)

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Lesson #5

Barefoot trail running can lead one down a slippery slope that has nothing to do with mud and everything to do with life changes inspired by discovering the power of shoelessness.

Q: What the heck does that mean?

A: I have let go of haircuts, sleeping-with-a-pillow, mouth-breathing, some-but-not-all carbs, etc.

 

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Happiness is a barefoot foot-hug with grandkids at a waterfall in Big Sur.

Lesson #6

Smiling is unavoidable when trail running with a long braid.

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My awesome (and no-longer-available) Merrill Pipidae Wrap sandals

Lesson #7

While I still wear sandals (the same ones I backpack in) to eat out, work, go to church, etc, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep them on once at table, desk, or pew.

Q: Why don’t you stop wearing footwear altogether, then?

A: After seven years, am I still hung up on “conventional wisdom” that says only crazy people go out and about in public without shoes? How fun is it to answer a question with a question?

A: Almost as fun as traveling trails with happy, free toes.

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Happy Trails . . . seven times seven!

Happy Barefoot & Muddy Trail Runnin’ New Year!

January 1, 2017

 

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To celebrate both my return to running (after suffering a lower right fibula stress fracture back in October) as well as all the fabulous end-of-year rain here in So Cal, I decided to film a sequel to “I Like Mud (and barefoot running)” (which has had 21,000+ YouTube views in the last three years . . . yikes . . .).

Here it is . . . a much-shorter version of the same plot: crazy old lady goes for a run in the mud and reverts to her childhood.

This time my hair looks a bit wilder, bringing to mind the good old CSN&Y song: “I wonder why/ I feel like letting my freak flag fly.”

But fly it did/does:

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May mud (and other simple pleasures of God’s good creation) enrich your life in 2017!

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Barefooted-ly Leaving 2016 in the Dust (or Mud)

December 29, 2016

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My daughter and I had a fun Christmas Eve afternoon stroll around Irvine Regional Park, during which she used her photography super-powers to make my feet feel like celebrities:

And, of course, having a camera pointed in my direction definitely inspired me to show off–as much as my still-healing-stress-fractured-lower-right-fibula would allow:

It was a stellar day, all puffy clouds and chilly sunshine and 60-mile views of the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains:

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(In case you missed it: Look! Snow!)

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For weeks, I’ve been trying and trying to work up to more than a few seconds of easy jogging, but the pain keeps reminding me, “Wait! We’ve got a bit more healing to do!”

Sigh. Here’s me “pretending” to run. (None of the rocks were fooled.)

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As the above photo shows (and all the above photos were by my talented daughter! Thanks!) the trails were luscious with damp dirt and vivid new growth–in Southern California the winter rains bring LIFE to the wild lands (inspiring a poem):

After December rain

a blessing of green
fringes the trail:
moss-lichen-fern-grasses
plump, glow, unfurl, leap–
all our damp feet
are glad for the springing
of chaparral winter
and the promise
of wild February
flowerstorms.

So the wildflowers are on their way . . . just like Scarlett O’Hara reminds us: “Tomorrow is another day.”

And my own personal “tomorrow” finally happened today: I was able to ascend the mile+ trail back to the top of Barham Ridge where the views of the Pacific Ocean were just as amazing as I remembered.

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That is correct: on December 29, 2016, at 3:45 pm, I finally RAN (slowly) for many minutes! Up and down hills! In running shorts! (It was over 70 degrees today! How many exclamation points can we get away with here?!)

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So that’s pretty much the end of my barefoot running in 2016; with two days of rain in the forecast, our county park trails will be closed again, and I’ll sulk around the house until my next (2017!) adventure in the wild Orange County foothills that are habitat and home to so much shoe-less life . . . including . . . you-know-who . . .

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Happy New Year! Happy Trails!

Barefoot and/or Pregnant at Christmas Time

December 4, 2016

 

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Opening wedding presents, c. September 1975. Flower children, indeed . . .

It’s December, the month Christians around the world celebrate teen pregnancy, as the ancient story is retold of the virgin Mary giving birth to Baby Jesus, a story I–sort of–identify with every time this season rolls around.

Sort of: I, too, was a young mom. Definitely not of the virginal persuasion, however . . . just an unhappy teen whom the centuries will not celebrate . . . just an angsty 15-year-old who must not have paid attention during the awkward junior high PE class films on all things female . . . just a last-of-seven-siblings goof-off whose exhausted parents never quite got around to paying enough attention to figure out anything was amiss until that damp June 1975 evening when my baby-daddy (a handy 21st-century term that had not quite entered the vernacular in 1975) and I dropped the P-bomb on the fam.

It’s December, 1975. My now-husband and I are official high school drop-outs; fading September wedding photos show that we look even younger than our ages (16, 17), but it’s Christmas time, and with my big belly I feel as conspicuous as Mary.

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It took a bit of searching, but I found a honeymoon photo (don’t be judgin’ our choice of honeymoon suites–Sportsman’s Trailer Park on the banks of the Colorado River) that shows me . . . ta da . . . barefoot & bun in oven.

It’s December, 2016. I just googled “barefoot and pregnant” to see if there was any link between my being an early adopter of motherhood and my current barefoot state.

The ladies of the “Mumsnet” discussion group seem to agree that the “barefoot” part of this quote is definitely negative: “[She] can’t leave because she has no shoes to walk in and [is] pregnant and vulnerable.”

Then there’s good ol’ Wikipedia: “A common assumption is that the expression relates to housewives not leaving the home, and thus not needing shoes.”

One more bit from WikiP: “Barefoot And Pregnant is a phrase that pokes fun at chauvinists who want their women barefoot (so that they are unable to socialize) and pregnant (helpless). This follows the general image of society in which women are merely objects.”

Hmm. According to “society” (whatever that is), no shoes = homebound helplessness.

Not my shoe-less experience at all; in fact, learning to adapt to hiking/running barefoot for hours on rocky, muddy, dusty, steepy trails for the last six years has made me feel . . . has made me feel . . . had made me feel like the middle-aged embodiment of all 26 synonyms for “able” (thanks to the lovely Thesaurus.com): adept, adequate, adroit, agile, alert, apt, bright, capable, competent, cunning, deft, dexterous, easy, effortless, endowed, equipped, facile, fitted, good, intelligent, knowing, powerful, ready, smart, strong, worthy.

As Homer Simpson would say, “Woo hoo!

The “. . . and pregnant” half of the equation hits home, though: this is definitely a vulnerable state of being, whether or not you’re 16. 18. 22. (The ages I delivered babies.) How crazy it seems–looking back from my 40-some-years-later perch of perspective–that I was able to muddle through these chapters of life with our three kids: Oopsie, Uh-oh, and Not Again.

Or was it only “our” kids? (Spoiler alert: nope.)

It wasn’t just me and Baby-daddy; we had lots of help along the way, including the love-and-presence of God as well as our big ol’ extended families . . . once they got over the hilarity of “Thea’s pregnant? That tomboy? Didn’t she hate playing with dolls and now she’s got a baby to take care of 24/7/365? That’s the most ironic thing I’ve ever heard of. I think I just snorted Fresca out my nose.” (Fresca = popular 70s soda pop brand.)

So it’s December again, and these annual musings twinkle like background Christmas music that you’d like to put an end to, but worry that it might be considered symptomatic of a mental unhingement to rip the tinny speakers out of the grocery store ceiling, so you hum along.

And plot your next barefoot trail adventure.

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Here I am back at Irvine Park this week, trying to get back to running-not-limping, seven weeks after the fateful stress fracture. Each day, the pain ebbs. 

 

Wandering thoughts while walking-not-running barefoot

November 20, 2016

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This morning’s sermon title: “The Way of Gratitude.”

Walking the Willow Trail a few hours ago at sunset in a November drizzle: as the trail got harder to see, my other senses kicked in and I felt scents: acrid moist dirt. Sharp-leafed musk of mule fat.

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Fuzzy fruity yerba santa. Tangy, soft pillows of horse manure.

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How to deal with things that fade:

Willow green leaf-shine,
this last rainy afternoon
light; my enthusiasm for life-
without-running. Then night.

 

It’s raining! Once again my hat brim drips. The knee-ward side of my pants gets soaked. Mud clumps up on the soles of my feet.

Maybe the stress fracture is feeling less stressed today? I try two gentle steps of jogging. Ouch. But I am able to walk for a couple of dusty (muddy?!) miles again.

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Yesterday I spent in Hemet (what lovely mountain views) at a relative’s 70th birthday celebration: just recovering from hip surgery, she can hardly totter along behind her two-wheeled flimsy aluminum walker.

Absorbing Bach’s “Magnificat” (c. 1733) at my Lutheran church-from-birth this evening: pipe organ, orchestra with trumpets and timpani, choir in five parts. All Latin. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” young Mary sang when she found out she was going to be great with child. When I was 15, I was not quite as pleased to discover I was pregnant. Mary and I shared Christmas-time due dates, making the holidays awkward for both of us (and our families).

Tonight, under our recently remodeled c.1914 neo-gothic sanctuary’s hundreds of too-bright, too-blue LED lights, I had difficulty seeing the choir members faces clearly from my usual spot in the back of the balcony. Earlier this afternoon my sister told me she was ready to schedule her cataract surgery.

I have been sitting up here for 57 years. “Did you hear about the religious skunk? He went to church every Sunday and sat in his own pew.” One of my favorite “balcony jokes.”

The anticipatory chaos of an orchestra tuning . . . and then the pause . . . and the baton and opening notes crash down together.

Who was listening to what on this sagebrush-covered flood plain in 1730?

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The music and instruments of Europe continue to sound here, but not the native songs of this place.

That pall, the pull of “what happened here” . . . not always audible/sensory/logical, but still “real”?

A church friend came up to me before the start of the Bach concert to tell me he was taking his grandkids–our kids went to elementary school together here–to Grand Canyon’s South Rim this Friday on the Polar Express Christmas Train out of Williams, AZ.

Earlier today, after morning service, a middle-aged lady–who babysat my kids when she was a teenager–walked over to say “hi” to my visiting daughter (“I thought you were your mom!”) and to tell me she enjoyed following my Grand Canyon adventures on Facebook.

 

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My late teens/early 20s were an adventure in: diaper sniffing, diaper changing, diaper rinsing, diaper hanging-out-to-dry on the clothesline . . . I was a stay-at-home mom-of-three cliche, except I was always at least ten years younger than most of my PTA peers. Ongoing awkwardness then, maybe some good stories now. “When I was your age (16, 18, 22), I had (1, 2, 3) kids and a mortgage.” Husband, too, who is still good for a few laughs 41 years later.

Smelling like a soggy grandma, driving home from the trailhead at 5:30 this evening: wet Chapman Ave. reflects headlights, tail-lights on the way down El Modena Grade. There are memories that cannot be driven away when you’ve lived in the. Same. Place. All your life.

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As I’ve written many times before, the willows along Santiago Creek just west of Irvine Park are cracking, falling, fragmenting in the drought, sometimes blocking the trail until chainsaw crews do something about it. The willow forest is a jumble of trunks and limbs.

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It is full-fledged fall in The Willows–leaves yellow, drift, get soaked like me as I listen in the blessed rain. I hold still, hold my breath, and there is it, it is there, it’s here: leaf-drip percussion under a mitigated sycamore. (Planted here as if that would offset habitat lost to x-hundred/y-thousand houses elsewhere in Orange County.)

Walking walking walking. This place is so close to the edge of the continent you can hardly head west. I never learned to yodel, but it feels like time to try.

This morning’s sermon title: “The Way of Gratitude.”

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