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Back to Grand Canyon’s North Rim

October 13, 2016

[All photos in this blog post are by Lorrie Baumann. Thanks, Lorrie!]


Here I am soaking in the view from Cape Final on the North Rim.

I feel like I could float right over the canyon: I just received confirmation of the dates for my next “Writing on the Edge” workshop at Grand Canyon: June 16-18,2017.

This will be my third Grand Canyon Association Field Institute (GCAFI) creative writing workshop at the North Rim, and I’m really looking forward to another great time with writers as we wander the canyon rim trails through forests perfumed with rivers of lupine in bloom.


A lupine river meanders near the trail to Cape Final; the sun’s heat intensifies and mingles the spicy ponderosa and sweet lupine odors. Mmmmm.

This afternoon, after I revised the outline of activities for next summer’s workshop to send to the GCAFI so they could prepare the new web pages, I revisited some of the words Johanna L. and Lorrie B. had sent me after our time together this past June.

Lorrie’s photo, below, displays the view from one of our hike-and-write vantage points along the Transept Trail; her story that follows was composed in this delectable place.



Parable of the Squirrel and the Mountain (by Lorrie Baumann)

[Exercise: Choose two nonhuman creatures/things and let them talk to each other.]

“I am a monolith of rock. I have always been here and know my place on the Earth, which is eternal,” said the mountain.

“I also know my place on this Earth. And here is where I belong,” announced the squirrel.

“It cannot be with the knowing that I have, little squirrel. Your life if fleeting. I will watch your generations come and go while I am here and live on.”

The squirrel dug a casual hole and buried a pine nut for the future. “You might think you know everything about your place on the Earth, and it’s true that you can know it in a grand way, but next winter, I will remember precisely where I left this nut, while you will clearly only be thinking deep and majestic thoughts. I’ll be the one who’s eating while the snowmelt will come into the hole I leave when I dig up my nut, and it will weather your rock until it cracks, just a small crack, and then a bit of you will fall away. What do you say to that?”

“I can spare a pebble or two,” the mountain answered. “That doesn’t change my sense of where I am in this world.”

“Well, I’ll tell you who can change your sense of where you are in a big, fat hurry, and that’s a human being. They have guys with explosives and machinery to take a mountain from here and move the rocks over there. They can do it.”

“I have heard of this,” the mountain intoned contemptuously. “But it’s not going to happen to me. I belong here, for now and for all time.”

“Or for exactly as long as those guys agree with you on that,” the squirrel said. “And I don’t think they necessarily share your sense that you’re as essential to the place as you do. Hell, I don’t even think very many of them know where they belong, let alone where you belong. An awful lot of them show up here and drift away again with nothing that makes them fit into this place other than their selfies. I watch them and laugh, because they’ll go and I’ll be here taking care of my own business, because I belong here and they don’t. You, on the other hand, could, let me remind you, be replaced.”

In response, the mountain shrugged and dispatched a boulder that squashed that impudent rodent flat. The mountain chuckled to itself in a long, deep rumbling laugh. “That’s a way to teach a squirrel its place on the Earth,” it said. “Just make it one with it.”

And then the mountain slept.

Moral: Don’t be a smartass with the mountain. It may not be invincible, but it’s still a lot bigger than you.

Short timed writing (by Lorrie Baumann)

The wind can’t decide if it’s going to blow or be still.

Our little group came a short way along the Transept Trail from our campsite and sat down to write at a quiet outcropping of boulders that offered shade and enough fallen leaves to make a softish place to sit as well as a clear view across the canyon.

It required only the most minimal imagination to picture other people there before us, brown-skinned and at home here, choosing this place to look out over the canyon for any signs of interlopers.

We named it “Inspiration Fort,” all of us a little surprised, I think, that Thea’s invitation to be a little silly and imagine voices for the nonhuman had sparked something from within us that we hadn’t expected. I have written a parable, surprised to find out that what I had to say came out as a story, with a plot of sorts and everything.

There is no place on Earth I’d rather be right now.

The North Rim in June is bloomin’ with wildflowers.


Here a Northern Flicker sips near our writing group at Cliff Spring.


Jo wades into the lupine river for a photo.

Another one of my favorite writing prompts–which I learned from Kim Stafford during a Summer Fishtrap workshop–is called “Leaving . . . “. Through it writers are inspired to imagine what a place means to them when it’s time to move on. The vivid piece below was composed by Jo during the last hour of our writing time at the end of a productive last day hiking a little–and writing a lot–along the North Rim’s Widforss Trail.

Leaving the North Rim  (By Johanna Lombard, June 18, 2016, edited August 26, 2016)

I don’t think I ever really leave the North Rim. I may go away. For weeks or months and sometimes many years. But I never really leave.

Other cultures have words to describe sense of place.

“Tenalach,” an Irish word, describes a relationship one has with lands, air, and water–a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the Earth sing.

Or my favorite, “querencia,” a metaphysical concept in the Spanish language, which means a place where one feels safe; a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn; a place where one feels at home.

I think about the idea of sense of place. That which is in us. A part of us. Woven into the fabric of our souls. Something that time and distance and new sights and smells cannot remove–that innate feeling that this place is a part of you and you of it, just as its dirt gets under your fingernails, its sand in between your toes, and the smell of sunblock and sweat ingrains in your pores.

It gives fodder for daydreams when you’re stuck in traffic or walking through the box store—the rich sweet scent of ponderosa just within your grasp of smell.

It offers a place for your mind to wander when you’re stuck in the heat of the day and your brain remembers cool breezes and chilly nights. It forms a foundation of memories through time of extended family cooking mega-breakfasts on multiple Coleman stoves, serving up potatoes and onions, bacon, scrambled eggs, and cowboy coffee to go with the joyous laughter coming from beneath the tall ponderosas in site #12.

Of a park ranger who has what appears to be the coolest job in the world to this 16-year-old girl, as he greets visitors at the entrance station and checks on campers in the campground.

Of numerous backpack trips filled with stories now deeply entrenched as part of our family lore: the two, muscled Marines with their giant machetes and boom boxes hiking past Cottonwood Campground. The two young German men carrying their bicycles as they hiked across the canyon because a park ranger had busted them for trying to ride them across. The animal that ate our butter out of the creek where we had stored it to keep it cool for our macaroni and cheese with tuna dinner after hiking to Ribbon Falls. The colossal midnight monsoon thunderstorm that drenched us in our rainfly-less tent. “It never rains in the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” my dad had said. (Note: this writer has been rained on in the bottom of Grand Canyon dozens of times since then.)

And even when the time for family vacations had passed, I still found myself on the North Rim: starting a rim to rim solo hike at 20 years old during my first summer working in the park; trips to explore the area with new friends; trips to visit “one last time” before moving away from Arizona; and now multiple trips yearly because I am fortunate to get to work on media projects for this beautiful place.

Leave. Return. Leave. Return. Leave. Return. Leave.

Today I will leave the North Rim as I have many times before, but tomorrow I will look across to it from my home on the South Rim and know that it is always here and I am just a short hike (or half-day drive) away. Until I return.


Angel’s Window at Cape Royal (this and all the  other photos in this post by Lorrie Baumann)

Thanks, Jo and Lorrie, for sharing your words! May our paths cross again!

Sunday morning coming down (the trail)

October 2, 2016

The recent late September heat wave sure got me in the rhythm of running at first light (except for a few fun twilight runs to the tune of 90+ degrees at sunset).

This Sunday morning the car thermometer showed temps back below 60 degrees at 7 am when I pulled into Irvine Park . . . perfect running weather on a clear fall morning . . .


. . . and I guess perfect mountain biking weather as well; the Barham Ranch trails were crazy with packs of speeding gleaming technology, which got me somehow thinking of the song “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (written by Kris Kristofferson and made famous by Johnny Cash).

The real lyrics:

On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothing short a’ dying
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleeping city sidewalk
And Sunday morning coming down.

My version this morning:

On a Sunday morning trail run,
I’m wishing that I was alone,
’cause there’s something about almost getting run over by speeding mountain bikers
that takes you out of your running zone.
And there’s nothing short of dying
that’s half as scary as the sound
as derailleurs rattling behind you
and Sunday morning bikers coming down.

Along with the distraction of having to move to the side of the singletrack every few minutes, more people meant more comments on my shoeless state of being: “You’re barefoot!” “Where’s your shoes?” “How do you do that?” Etc. & Etc.

At the beginning of this 6.5 year adventure, I would enthusiastically reply with all kinds of witty & educational comebacks; at this point I’ve realized it’s waste of breath that could otherwise be used to fuel my loping legs.

So I just smile and give a thumbs up and keep. On. Truckin’.

During breaks in the hurtling hoards, this:


Morning light in oak canopy


Oak gall and acorn caps



15 feet above the trail: my first orb weaver sighting of the fall


Cottonwoods going gold


A favorite trail bird: the California towhee, my role model for how to get the heck out of the way


Far far far from the trailhead: this random act of stupidity


My hydration pack is also a temporary trash holder.


I reserve one of the pockets for bits of micro trash; today yielded a big harvest, unfortunately.


Just this morning’s trail shizz . . . 


But this sycamore image is the one I will keep with me all week. Welcome fall!

After two glorious hours of running barefoot up and down champagne-dust (albeit crowded) hills, I even made it home in time to make the 9:30 am service at my church-from-birth, St. John’s Lutheran in Orange, CA, whose senior pastor is one of the local mountain bikers,


but who I don’t have to worry about getting run over by on Sunday morning, at least.






Hot time for barefoot selfies on the trail

September 26, 2016


Yesterday afternoon my car thermometer read 99 degrees when I parked it at Irvine Regional Park and hit the trail at 5:30 pm.

That’s warm, even for Orange County in September, so the shady dirt road that wound below Holy Sepulchre Cemetery seemed like a good place to start.

And oh the lovely air: sunset-still, perfumed with dry hints of sage, acrid with dust and a trace of smoke that hinted at the danger of a fall day like yesterday when the crackling native plants are almost audible in their thirst for winter rain.

So I kept an eye out for anyone who might be up to mischief with matches, since this hot-dry-windy weather phenomenon known as “Santa Ana conditions” has in the past excited far too many arsonists into setting the wildlands on fire.

But it was just me and the shiny darkling beetles leaving our tracks in the champagne dust. (Thanks for this lovely phrase, Gina B.! I’m finally remembering to incorporate it🙂 )

I reveled in the lack of other humans looking askance at my (lack of) footwear, and celebrated by spending even more time than usual creating images in my favorite photo genre: barefoot selfies, my way of thumbing my nose at being diagnosed with 57 years of age and osteoporosis.


Although I almost always wear a hydration pack (currently I’m using an Ultimate Direction Jenny Vesta), I mainly use the pack to carry my little camera as well as to hold trail-trash until I get back to the trailhead waste bins. (But of course it’s got a knife, and identification and extra food and a whistle and a kitchen sink as well.)

Just a half-liter is all I carry on these shorter-than-90-minute adventures; I don’t need to drink much since I guzzle a liter or so in the hour before I head out (that, and breathing through my nose whilst running, are two more of my late-in-life running experiments that are going well, thank-you-very-much).

On hot days, however, the pack comes in handy as a repository for my cotton t-shirt . . . but only after I have made good use of said shirt by starting the run with it soaking wet and then sliding it over my also-soaked head. Brrr. Yesss.

A wise ranger once remarked during a Grand Canyon hiking presentation: “If you’re hot, you’re stupid.”

Hmmm . . . I think more than a few folks would already question the intelligence of a lone woman running at twilight (mountain lion feeding time, and two local wilderness parks are currently closed due to recent sightings) with nothing on her feet; I certainly don’t want to add fuel to that hater fire, so I hydrate (and eat) like crazy before my run, and wear a wet shirt when it’s still a freakish almost-100 degrees at sunset.

In twenty minutes, I’m dry.

But here are the hills!

Photo-shoot time . . . with my crappy camera that doesn’t like to focus very well on flower close-ups (as I’ve complained many times before), so I don’t mind setting it in the dirt next to the trail so it can capture short video clips.

Part of the fun of the editing process, then, is finding images within the clips where I’m airborne.

Like this:


Or this:


Happy dry-hot-no-longer-summer trails! Let the rains commence, soon!





Amazing book of “Trail Quotes” to feed your walking love

September 7, 2016


While I miss the satisfaction of stumbling upon a wonderful, previously-unknown-to-me book in an in-the-flesh book store, the internet allows for serendipity as well; a recent tumble down some kind of research rabbit hole led me to an absolute gem of a PDF book titled Trail Quotes : from Advocacy to Wilderness, a mind-boggling (232 pages) collection of wild, wise words (over 1,000 “trail-related” quotes) collected over many years by Jim Schmid, State Trails Coordinator, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and offered to the public in 2001.


Some of the 48 categories Schmid includes . . . Advocacy, Humor, Long Distance Trails, Native American, Outdoor Ethics, Rivers, Safety, Songs, Walkable Communities . . . all the way through the alphabet to Wilderness.

I have had, and continue to have, such fun electronically flipping my way through the pages and getting inspired by so many different aspects of being outside on the trail.

Here’s a teeny sampling of words from the 18th-20th centuries from the 14-page section “Walking”: (interspersed with photos of recent adventures on the trails near Irvine Park outside my hometown of Orange, CA)


I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. When body and mind are out of gear (and those twin parts of me live at such close quarters that the one always catches melancholy from the other) I know that I shall have only to call in my doctors and I shall be well again. —GEORGE MACAULAY TREVELYAN, Walking, essay in The Art of Walking, edited by Edwin Valentine Mitchell, 1934

Never did I think so much, exist so much, be myself so much as in the journeys I have made alone and on foot. Walking has something about it which animates and enlivens my ideas. I can hardly think while I am still; my body must be in motion to move my mind. —JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU, French philosopher & writer, 1712–78

The art of walking is obsolete. It is true that a few still cling to that mode of locomotion, are still admired as fossil specimens of an extinct race of pedestrians, but for the majority of civilized humanity, walking is on its last legs. —SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 9, 1869


Walking may have been considered on its “last legs” in 1869, but in 2016 I find crawling a reasonable alternative (or just a good way to get the whole being warmed up before a run).

I find that the three truly great times for thinking thoughts are when I am standing in the shower, sitting on the john, or walking. And the greatest of these, by far, is walking. —COLIN FLETCHER, The New Complete Walker, 1974 

It is great art to saunter. —HENRY DAVID THOREAU, American writer and naturalist, 1817–62


There are some good things to say about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and therefore more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated and anyone can transport himself anywhere, instantly. Big deal, Buckminster. To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me. That’s God’s job, not ours. The longest journey begins with a single step, not with a turn of the ignition key. That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t matter whether you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home. Right where you started. Which reminds me of circles. Which reminds me of wheels. Which reminds me my old truck needs another front-end job. Any good mechanics out there wandering through the smog? —EDWARD ABBEY, American environmental advocate, 1927–89


Trails bordered by barbed wire: what would Ed Abbey think of this?

Walking is the exercise that needs no gym. It is the prescription without medicine, the weight control without diet, the cosmetic that is sold in no drugstore. It is the tranquilizer without a pill, the therapy without a psychoanalyst, the fountain of youth that is no legend. A walk is the vacation that does not cost a cent. —AARON SUSSMAN and RUTH GOODE, The Magic of Walking, 1967

It’s about as nice a thing as anybody can do—walking, and it’s cheap, too! —EMMA ‘GRANDMA’ GATEWOOD, at age 67 first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (1955), 1887–1973


Doing my lunges so I can stay strong and maybe thru-hike like “Grandma Gatewood” when I’m 67. 

Happy Trails! (Preferably barefoot . . .)

Please look out for those among us who are easily damaged

August 29, 2016


It’s unavoidable when you live in a county of three million people: there will be crowding; there will be casualties.

May “We Beetles” be a metaphor for all kinds of vulnerable individuals in our midst . . .



We Beetles

we make
small steps

heads up
or down

it is our path
not a grind

but we are ground
how we are ground

it is our path
do not look down
on us

just look down

My Olympian Gold, Silver & Bronze

August 21, 2016

On this, the final day of the 2016 Olympics, I went for an early run near Irvine Park–as I have been doing lately to avoid the midday heat.

In my non-race against no-one but myself, we were all rewarded with Gold, Silver and Bronze prizes in the dusty summer landscape. (Click on the links for more information about traditional uses of these lovely California native plants.)

Bronze: California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)

Silver: (a three-way tie)


Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana)


August moon-set



Slanted early light on dust and feet and dusty feet . . . 

Willow leaves transformed by morning light . . .


“The golden orb” . . .  about to rise from the Lomas de Santiago.

Now on to my favorite Olympic events from the past week: (Not to brag or anything, but I rocked them all.)

shadow on log

Log Shadowing

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Willow Forest Flying

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Log Balancing

tootsie roll scat

Early Morning  Scat Inspecting (might this tootsie-roll be bobcat?)

table jump

Table Jumping (also known as Osteoporosis Denying)

The new school year begins tomorrow . . . here we go!Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 1.47.39 PM

Not the same old place

July 31, 2016

I was inspired today by a blog post by “Mildly Extreme” Jane, who lives in Australia and records her local nature adventures with fabulous photos and winsome words (and occasional bursts of alliteration, which I appreciate).

Her most recent post details the natural abundance of a local hike in an “urban wilderness” area–as her blog’s title suggests, nothing extreme, but her attentiveness and attention to details creates such appreciation in me as I wander along the Tarcoola Track with her, courtesy of the internet.


Same ol’ same ol’ . . . along the Barham Ridge trail near Weir Canyon

Thinking about her post, I realized that even though I’ve been wandering (and eventually writing about) the same ol’ hills just outside my hometown of Orange, CA, for 20+ years, it’s always rewarding to revisit these familiar, flawed-but-still-fascinating places.

Thousands of miles I’ve traveled over the same ol’ dusty loops up and down and around Barham Ridge; each time proves Heroclitus correct (although I did not know he was the one who came up with this idea until just now when I looked up the source of the quote “You can’t enter the same river twice” ).

Time of year, time of day, time of my life: all these constants of change keep me on my toes out on the trails. (And of course I would never heel-strike since my toes are naked.)


Since summer’s been sizzling lately, my run times have shifted to early morning; today I was laying down tracks in the dirt just after 6 am. A lovely scatter of cirrus clouds transformed the first light:


Don’t try this at home: munching the delicate flowers of jimson weed is fine for critters; not so much for humans unschooled in the arts of hallucinogenic botany.


Prickly pear in silhouettes; like all California native plants, this one was valuable to the earliest inhabitants of the area (and you can still find nopales in local produce aisles).


Mmmm  . . . the perfume of  thick-leaved yerba santa! (another useful California native plant for folks who know what they’re doing).

Summer heat changes our activity patterns; humans head for the beach, local critters head into hiding. One exception is the opportunistic (optimistic?) dung beetle. Crap seems to be a year-round commodity in these parts (especially right now during election season. Ba-dah-bump.)


Feces or foot? The dung beetle knows . . . 

July’s last day: early morning clouds, slanted light, cool air under the oaks, shadowed dust . . . welcome changes from the heat of mid-day, mid-summer.

And now, in mid-life (sheesh–I think at age 57 I’m actually past mid-life), I continue to change with the seasons. I’ve run three times this week, aiming to put into practice some of the kinesthetic awareness I’ve been learning about by reading “Running with the Whole Body,” a thirty-year-old gem I  recently discovered in the county library system that applies Feldenkrais (“awareness through movement” principles to running.

Each run has been more fantastic than the last, with uphills invigorating and downhills downright exhilarating. Last summer at this time I was reduced to walking due to right hip pain; a year later (these things take time), after ongoing extremely fantastic physical therapy work as well as months of Feldenkrais classes, I have reached running bliss.

I’m older than I’ve ever been (duh), but also “younger” — I can float effortlessly, shoelessly, over trails for 90 minutes and feel invigorated, not exhausted, when I arrive back at the car.

Now: to take these lessons learned back to work as it commences tomorrow . . .  how to keep from getting lost in my head and letting my body rot motionless in a desk chair as another school year begins . . .

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Happy Back-to-school trails!