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Freedom to Race 10k Barefoot

July 10, 2021

Trapped at the finish line!

There I was, boxed in behind a stroller traffic jam during my moment of (non)Olympic glory as I blazed around the Canyon High School track and across the timing pad in a scorching 1:07:34 in the Anaheim Hills Firecracker 5k/10k on Indepedence Day 2021.

(The stroller folk were from the 5k event.)

Gotta admit that was not an Olympic medal performance, but it was still a great morning to be alive and running for 6.2 miles in the company of 184 other 10k-minded folks who were probably as perplexed as I was to find the weirdest race swag item ever in the race-sponsor goody bag:

After a dismal season, the Anaheim Ducks hockey team seems to be extra eager to get rid of player figurines . . .

Ever wary of being late, I arrived at 5:30 am for the 7am start, and after a leisurely hour+ warm-up of walking and jogging around the area, I was able to relax at the start line and then nose-breath for the first couple of miles (inhale for three steps/exhale for three steps).

When the race location, Anaheim HILLS, began to manifest itself, I switched to mouth breathing the rest of the way (three steps inhale/two steps exhale). Finally, when the finish line seemed like it actually would appear, I went to 2/2 (puffy cheeks–see photo above!) and pushed myself the last quarter mile or so.

Although I’ve only raced 10k a few times, it seems like a difficult distance to run “hard”; I felt much better able to focus in the few 5k’s I’ve run in the last several years, since it doesn’t seem nearly as tough to push myself for less than 30 minutes.

But to choose to feel awful and out of breath for over an hour? Type 2 fun, for sure.

As the pandemic here in So Cal loosened its grip, I’d been looking for a celebratory running challenge, and when a search of “July races in California” turned up this one just a few minutes away . . . I went for it.

Went for it indeed . . . what was I THINKING?! Why would I want to run six miles on yucky pavement? (by far my longest stretch of non-dirt running in the past 11 years).

I was grateful to end up with only one tiny blister on my left foot/second toe.

Feet after 10k on pavement.

Let the barefoot freedom ring!

In other shoe-less fun–it was nice to have my solo hiking/running routine changed up this week by surprise-visitor-from-Argentina: Christine!

She’s an inspiration: freelance writer, yoga instructor, ukulele aficionado, student (and performer) of a variety circus arts . . . this kid is amazing.

I “introduced” her to my favorite OC trail . . . but when she saw the wood railings, she remembered this was where I had already brought her several years ago, the last time she was in the area.

Oh well . . . following James Taylor’s directive, “I guess my feet know where they want me to go,” we ended up at a nearby blackberry patch I had never seen before, sampling the organic generosity of a local plant wizard.

Watch out for thorns!

A couple days later, I was able to introduce Christine to a “new” (to her) park where we were happy to discover peacocks (not pictured) and acorn woodpeckers and Egyptian geese and foot-massage-sprinklers.

And colorful poison oak:

During the pandemic I’ve been reading a book called “Older Yet Faster” and working on my running form; the authors are kind enough to provide critiques, so I asked Christine to video me so I could send them a few seconds to look at. Here’s a screen shot of the airborne phase, which has no diagnostic value but sure looks fun.

The verdict from the authors: I’m doing all kinds of stuff non-optimally (from arm swing to foot strike to . . . you get the picture).

Dang.

Their advice: to go back to the basic info in their book and keep working. Which I may or may not do, since I’m pretty happy with how my running is going. (I think I was only looking for affirmation when I submitted my video. Now I have to deal with exactly how much more time/effort I want to commit to following the Older Yet Faster program, which it seems I have misunderstood/misapplied thus far. Sigh.)

Each day this week has been warmer than the one before, making pre-dawn running seem like a good idea. It’s my favorite time of day on our local trails . . . pungent with California native plant perfume and bird song.

Happy Trails! Where will your free feet take you next?

A barefoot beginning: I tackle the first 20 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail

April 23, 2021

What I did yesterday: Hiked the first 20 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 10 drizzly, chilly hours. (From the Mexican border–yep, that’s The Wall in the above photo–to the Lake Morena Campground in San Diego County.)

Water consumed: 2. 5 liters.

Water left in pack after 20 miles: 2 liters.

Weight of 4.5 liters of water: 9.9225 pounds.

Snacks/trail food consumed: Lots, including raisins, nuts, tuna, Rx bars, string cheese, chocolate chips. (Sounds gross, but it all tasted great.)

How long I planned this: Only a few days ago, after realizing 1) I had three whole blank calendar pages this week with no grandkid activities, and 2) the weather was going to be nice and cool. (Make that almost too cold . . . as I began at 6:30 a.m., my feet went numb almost immediately, and I had to wear sandals for about an hour to start. But . . . WAY better than having the ground surface too hot. Way. Better.)

What I learned: The voices in my head as I begin a new day’s adventure are full of doubt & fear and need to be ignored. (“You could: Cramp up. Fall down. Fall off a cliff. Sprain, strain or break something. Get lost. Get found by a wild _____ (fill in the blank with assorted reptiles & mammals, including humans). Run out of water. Drink too much water. Be too cold. Too hot. Succumb to hypothermia, hyponatremia, hypochondria.”) (And don’t forget: “Etc.”)

How I feel today: Accomplished as well as awesomely sore & stiff . . . and eager to tackle more miles.

Magical, meandering miles . . .

Hardest part: Watching Steve drive north from the border wall in our 1972 Dodge camper van, knowing I had to travel 20 miles on foot before I’d see him again.

Easiest part: Miles and miles of the most barefoot-friendly trail I’ve ever hiked on (and I’m way over the 10,000 mile mark after 11.3 years of this). Super smooth, compact sand. And the whole day felt like it was downhill (in a good way) until one steepish climb about four miles from the end. But, as I reminded myself quite a few times throughout the day, this hike is a walk in the park compared to the main corridor trail across Grand Canyon, which is about 23 miles long, with 5761 elevation loss followed by 4380 elevation gain if you hike north to south (or vice versa for south-to-north).

Ouchiest part: Yeah, there were a few chunks of granite here and there. Unable to “leave no trace” completely, I left a bit of toe-skin behind, on a few cheese-grater rocks half-submerged like icebergs in the trail. Chameleon icebergs, if that awkward metaphorical combination works. Rocks the color of the trail dirt . . . you get it. Moving on.

Best-est part: All the California native plants in bloom! WOW! It was all I could do to NOT STOP every few feet to snap yet another photo of more lovely flowers. See this checklist by Tom Chester for a thorough recounting of them all. Below: spectacular chaparral pea vines dangle their giant pink blossoms.

ALSO spectacular: The smells of the wet dirt and chaparral plants. Mmmm.

Mountain blue curls

Scary part: When I was rubber-necking at some flowers (chaparral pea? wild lilac?) and tripped. And landed on my right knee, which landed in a narrow niche of soft dirt between two rock chunks. Yikes.

Also of concern: just enough poison oak crowding just enough miles of lush & overgrown trail to keep me on high alert for. Ten. Hours.

Better than blisters part: Hiking about 18 (out of 20) miles without anything on my feet, with only a couple of toe-bumps that drew a little blood but not much and didn’t hurt after so that doesn’t count right? Feet felt great at the end. Plenty of tread left of these old soles. Not buying another pair any time soon.

Back at the campground. No blisters here, but plenty of trail stain.

Wettest part: My pant legs, since all the plants were soaked with the day’s chilly mist, which then soaked my pants, which made for some scary-cold moments when the breeze picked up (see comments above regarding fear of hypothermia).

Most social part: Hiking the last hour with Jim G from Denver . . . a nice young man who is starting a new chapter in life with a great adventurous attitude as he tackles all 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

Most anti-social part: The exquisite, media-free enjoyment of nine hours of silence, except for eavesdropping on the conversations of wren-tits, spotted towhees, quail, and other chaparral neighbors.

My shuttle awaits . . .

Most integral part of this section-hiking operation: Steve, for being such a cheerful shuttle-logistics-all-around helper (for 45 years, but who’s counting?) Flat tire in the cold-dark-night-before at the campground? No worries:

The goal: Continue hiking the PCT in sections, as time/health allow. (As barefooted-ly as possible, of course.)

Happy (long-distance, barefoot) trails!

(P.S. I hiked on Earth Day, which gave greater gravitas to my usual OCD routine of looking for micro trash. What an immaculate trail: 20 miles, and this (below) was all I found (except for the dozen empty plastic water bottles at a dirt road intersection . . . one of the informal water caches that PCT “Trail Angels” provide.)

(P.P.S. The raisin was mine . . . I dropped it during a snack break. “Leave no trace.” (Also: who flosses while hiking?!)

A Spring In My (Barefoot) Steps

March 31, 2021

“The first bud of spring sings the other seeds into joining her uprising.”
― California poet Amanda Gorman (found at Spring Quotes on Goodreads)

March has almost marched past; let the wildflower uprising begin!

Another sign of spring in Southern California: the last rains of the year. There will be no more puddles until winter.

The rains are gone, but the masks seem to be here for a while longer.

A snowy egret in Santiago Creek . . . also reflecting on Spring things?

Paying attention to the ground surface is obviously important when barefoot hiking/running. There are rewards other than keeping the toes un-stubbed: rock art sightings!

Our chilly March brought days of rain down here, glorious snow up there in the San Gabriels.

Ah, the irresistible water selfie. Narcissus much?

Some March days were downright warm; then the layers came off and the park bench beckoned.

Last weekend we ventured out for a first-in-a-year camping trip. Our 1970s-era Honda Trail 70s helped us putt-putt over the rough roads to the hiking trailhead of the Oak Woodland Natural Preserve, 60 acres dedicated to a grove of immense, and immensely old, Valley Oaks. Unlike Orange County’s evergreen Coast Live Oaks, these are deciduous.

My heroic tree-hugger hubby of 4.5 decades.

Being especially fond of both loop hikes & literary full circles, since I began this post with a quote from the Goodreads spring quotes pages, I’ll end with another California writer, John Steinbeck, on spring in California:

“In the deep spring when the grass was green on fields and foothills, when the lupines and poppies made a splendid blue and gold earth, when the great trees awakened in yellow-green young leaves, then there was no more lovely place in the world.

“It was no beauty you could ignore by being used to it. It caught you in the throat in the morning and made a pain of pleasure in the pit of your stomach when the sun went down over it.”
― John Steinbeck, The Wayward Bus

In my own back yard, the lupines and poppies are leading a local spring wildflower uprising, inducing a most welcome “pain of pleasure” whenever I glance out the window to take a break from my endless pandemic laptopping.

Farewell, puddles. Hello, flowers and whatever comes next.

Happy Springing Barefoot Trails!

“Inspiration At Every Turn! The Passion and Enthusiasm of Self-Discovery” (a re-blog of Mr. Campfire’s latest post)

February 26, 2021

It was fun reading Phil’s post about my workshop presentation for adventure guides at Grand Canyon several years ago . . . it made me want to get outside and WRITE right now, so I’ve “re-blogged” it . . . something I don’t do too often. I hope you have fun with my list of writing prompts to get you creating outside. Happy Trails!

Take time to escape...

Self discovery and inspiration are a thing for me. I wake up hungry for them every day! I have an insatiable appetite for adventures and feasts of savory experiences that leave me inspired. The relish to these inspirational experiences is seeing others being inspired in new and exciting ways to create amazing experiences and memories.

Passion!

Enthusiasm!

Self Discovery!

Inspiration!

Sounds like some pretty powerful ingredients and stunning recipe for adventure. Mixed properly and allowed to marinate at the right time in the right place, these ingredients react upon each other to form a catalyst for an explosion of imagination and inspiration.

It is truly a wonderful thing for me to literally experience inspiration with every step. And to add watching others experience new inspirations is absolutely thrilling for me!

So in this blog I will give some examples of watching these ingredients mix and the resulting “explosion of inspiration.”…

View original post 1,071 more words

Eleven Years of Barefoot Running Fun

January 31, 2021
Grand Canyon National Park, Cape Royal

Back in January 2010, I attended a Jon Young “bird language” workshop with a group of like-minded Orange County nature leaders. It was a chilly morning, and as we warmed our hands around a fire at O’Neill Park, I was struck by the odd choice of footwear by a couple of wool-pants-wearing, 20-something young men: nothing. Nada.

They were . . . barefoot? In mid-winter?

This struck me as moderately hilarious, and I elbowed the docent next to me and whispered some kind of witty-to-me comment about where this next generation was headed.

After an interesting several hours learning about bird language from a certified bird magician (or maybe just someone who’s spent a lifetime paying attention . . . I loved reading Jon Young’s book this past pandemic: What the Robin Knows), I drove home not with birds, but shoe-less-ness, on my mind.

A deep dive into web research-and-stories cleansed me of preconceived notions about the stigma of naked toes, and once I applied myself to a further peeling back of layers of advertising baloney sausage regarding the necessity of supportive and/or cushioned walking, running, and/or hiking shoes . . . well, as Paul Simon might sing, here I am, still barefoot after all these years.

Grand Canyon National Park, Plateau Point, photo by Nina Rehfeld

Those first heady years of weekly, then semi-monthly, blog posts about my barefoot adventures have mellowed into a blog publishing “schedule” bordering on semi-annual.

Has it all been said? Are there no more adventures to be had now that I’m 60 +, retired from teaching, pandemic-limited in travel, bereft of my Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute adventures?

(I was an instructor with the GCCFI from 2015 until its late-2020 defunding-demise, and many of my memorable adventures since 2011 happened in the context of participating in GCCFI-affiliated backpack trips and workshops.)

Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim, “Writing on the Edge” Workshop, 2019

I hope not.

I hope I never forget that each day I am able to swing my bare toes over the edge of the bed and touch them to the floor is a gift.

Each time I wander our local hilly trails is a blessing.

Each run I complete in one piece, few to zero bloody toes, is a cause for celebration.

Oops . . . where did that rock come from?!

(For so many years I was chronically injured runner . . . but things started improving once I got rid of shoes and made learning about running a life-long practice–not to mention God’s gracious answering of my desperate pleas to “just let me be able to run for five minutes” . . . “for a half hour” . . . “for an hour” . . . you get the picture. There’s no hunger like a runner’s coming back from injury . . . )

And, even at my most gimpy, when my knee/hip/foot/calf pain made running impossible, I’ve always been fortunate enough to be able to place one foot in front of the other and walk barefoot, somewhere, even if it was just to the mailbox, or corner, or path around a local park.

Santiago Oaks Regional Park

SO . . . there went eleven years of blogging about Barefoot Wandering and Writing.

I remain grateful for strong, capable feet. I hope to never take for granted every step they carry me somewhere–new or familiar–where there is always something to notice and smile about. And share.

Grand Canyon National Park, North Kaibab Trail, Barefoot Rim to Rim, October 2014

Happy Barefoot Trails! There’s no time like NOW to lose your shoes (even for a few minutes . . . and then . . . build from there)!

Advice for Running 30+ Miles (Barefoot Or Not, Whether You Asked Or Not)

November 28, 2020

Thanksgiving week. Thanksgiving life. Always cause for thanks.

But how time has changed in its flow, ebbs, and swirls since the beginning of 2020.

I’m still running barefoot, but with less to say (blog) about it.

Each run is a gift . . . Merry Early Christmas . . . Now in my 60s, I can run farther–and happier–than ever. Happily ever barefoot after, even though . . .

. . . sometimes pandemical months go by during which I can only hobble-hike, due to rock-smashed toes and other aches and quibbles. But whether it’s wearing sandals (those old faithful Merrell Pipidae Wraps) to limp down the sidewalk and admire holiday decorations,

This just appeared an hour ago in my neighborhood.

or shoelessly loping up and down our dusty local hills (dodging mountain bikers all the way), I’m grateful for the simple ability to inhabit this always healing body and . . . move along.

Moving right along

Of course my pocket camera goes with me on all these run-ventures, but taking photos feels less and less urgent—another reason this blog has turned sporadic. (Scroll on to the end of this piece for a few images of my pandemic-limited travels these last million days of safer-at-home.)

Always grateful to be stirred out of lethargy, I was intrigued when a barefoot runner friend recently asked for ideas as they plan to tackle a day-long 30-plus miles on their own local Pacific Northwest trails.

So I went for a run, thought about what has worked in my limited experience, and came up with the following:

Some thoughts towards prepping for a 30+ mile barefoot run

Train your brain. Read as many ultra-runner accounts as you can. There’s plenty to be found online . . . seems like everyone has a great story (of some combination of success and failure) to learn from. (Kenneth Posner is a favorite barefoot long-distance adventurer-writer at The Long Brown Path.)

It helps me to know there’s a lot of people out there running lots of miles—30, 50, 100+ in a day . . . C’mon, brain–it’s not that big of a deal. Thirty miles? Pshaw—barely more than a marathon, and we all know how many gazillions of regular folk do that every year.

Dear Brain: running/walking for long stretches of time is perfectly fine & fun behavior. OK, maybe a bit challenging. But definitely do-able. Sincerely, Me. (Or You?)

TOF: Spend as much time on your feet as you can each day (TOF= time of feet).  If you don’t run today, do something else: hustle up and down your stairs, dance around the kitchen, hike around the block (or swim or bike or row if that’s fun for you). Aim for daily “bricks in the wall” (a David Roche metaphor).

Does time spent balancing on a fence count?

Practice eating and drinking as you keep moving. Real food + regular water—whatever you will be consuming on the Big Day to keep your metabolic engine chugging along.

Consider the 9 + 1 pattern. Do this from the start (important: start the run doing this!) of your long haul, and you can go all day: nine minutes easy running followed by a minute of walking. Rinse and repeat. If you can run six miles already, I bet you could do the 9+1 thing tomorrow and be able to go 30 miles. (But I’m not a betting person, so . . . yeah . . . )

Don’t be dogmatic. Bring backup sandals or shoes (or both), and use them as conditions dictate. Are you out there to enjoy your time on the trails, or sacrifice your safety to “prove” something? (Hint: ask your ego.)

Smile. A silly solo grin. Even (especially!) if there’s no one around to smile back. The act of smiling causes brain changes that make everything more enjoyable.

This braid doesn’t give a flip. Or does it?

Sing. Belt out comforting and/or motivating and/or annoying songs. Bonus: If you have enough breath to do this, your pace might just be sustainable.

Greet the trees (and rocks, critters, plants). Learn their names ahead of time, if possible. Trail running is more fun around friends whose names you know.

Long-billed curlew? (I have to admit, I did not greet this new friend by name when we met this fall.)

Listen to your body, but don’t encourage any previously well-documented hypochondriatical-theatrical tendencies. Small aches and pains will often disappear if you . . . quit worrying about them. (See smile/sing advice, above.) Also to consider: find a professional who can help you learn to move more effectively whilst listening to your body. Feldenkrais practitioner Darcia Dexter has helped me immeasurably in this area.

Let thoughts go. Aim to just enjoy the act of moving. (Maybe walk backwards? How can you keep things interesting within reason? I’m always looking for new ideas . . . )

Of course I’ve left out all kinds of stuff. It’s a pandemic; who’s thinking super-clearly these days?

And now, a few images from the last several months to justify my ongoing compulsion to carry my pocket camera on runs:

October aspen in the Eastern Sierra Nevada.
Beginning Sept. 4, the Sierra Nevada were ablaze not only with aspen but with the Creek Fire; as of this writing, the largest fire in California’s recorded history had burned almost 380,000 acres and was still not 100% contained.
Smoke-enhanced sunsets . . . or sunrises?
Pandemic brain: I don’t remember where/when this was; so many smoky days . . .
Morro Bay at low tide; time/place to reflect.
Morro Rock, California Central Coast
Exquisite summer buckwheat at Montana de Oro State Park, CA Central Coast.
Happy Fall: so grateful I can still cross Santiago Creek to my dusty little network of local trails.

Happy (barefoot, virus-free) Trails!

(Take a long walk and let me know how it goes?)

The Barefoot Remedy for Feeling Blue

August 12, 2020

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Putting the “me” in metaphor (a poem)
A shadow of myself on the run
but also posed,
dusty pandemic party of one.

And so it continues: days of unschedule, lost hours, stuck back, computer eyes.

What a relief to be able to drive less than 15 minutes to local trailheads, step out of my car with no need to tie my shoes, and just. Start. Running. (Or, when I’m in an age-appropriate mood: just start walking, then some dynamic leg/arm warm-ups, all that good stuff a la David Roche. And then the running.) Blues-be-gone.

over the hill

This is height of fluffy dust season in Orange County–not drought, just normal pattern of rainlessness between ~April and November-ish. The trails are soft (in between the pebbles) and native plants are showing off their crazy ability to thrive in this exact place. Blued datura blossom.

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If I time my excursions, I can avoid most of the hiking-and-biking hordes.

But not their residue.

Today’s theme and all . . .  here’s some blue trash.

IMG_7956

How artful awful.

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Above all the unpleasant blue surprises sits the sky.

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And sometimes, down here on the ground, a welcome blue intrusion:

IMG_7922

Bluefluent (and barefoot) Trails to all . . .

IMG_7936

 

Wandering On Into A Summer Like No Other

June 12, 2020

back yard pool 1961

Youngest of seven, always in the middle of things . . .

During the ’60s, June was my favorite month–the hectic schedule of the school year over, the promise of unstructured, seemingly unlimited days ahead to read, play with siblings, ride bikes and hang out at the beach (or, more realistically, our back yard pool).

Fireworks stands would pop up all over town. Birthday money would burn a hole in my pocket (figure of speech) until I could exchange it for things that would spark and smoke and whistle as they (literally) burned.

Now I’m IN my 60s, no more school year schedules since I retired from teaching to help with our newborn grandson, who is now three, and more fun than ever, even if most of our interaction these days is via video chat.

Yes indeedy, this has been a strange June, full of both the familiar and unfamiliar, the comforting and the challenging.

I’ve made plenty of masks for family and friends (out of all kinds of fun recycled fabric).

masks for Taylor and family

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And when life gives you zucchini . . .

IMG_1723

. . . what to do except make (chocolate) zucchini bread?

zucchini bread

Mostly, though, my unstructured COVID-19 days have been spent hunched in front of my laptop, staring at lists of DNA matches and their family trees, trying to solve the mysteries of my dad’s biological family, starting with the most basic of questions: who are they?

bluebird looking in window

A curious bluebird neighbor at the window . . . “Why does she just sit and stare at that thing all day?”

A big breakthrough this week: using a “family tree cheat” technique on Ancestry, I plugged in a couple of ancestors that I skimmed from a DNA match’s tree. Their place of birth was the same Kentucky town as my paternal grandmother’s (one of the few “facts” she left behind when she died in childbirth with my dad’s younger sister).

The mysterious algorithms at Ancestry took over, and within a few days, I had a hundred previously uncategorized cousins now attached to various “placeholder” great-great-great (and then some) aunts, uncles, and grandparents. (It’s called the “Thru-Line” feature, and is nothing short of miraculous. Not to get too recommendy on y’all, but if you’re thinking about which DNA testing company to use to find missing relatives, this feature really sets Ancestry apart.)

So . . . 2+ months X 6-8 hours a day later . . . this equation equals a stiffening lower back (probably from immobilized hip flexors). A weekly Zoom class with stellar Feldenkrais instructor Darcia Dexter has done wonders in mitigating all that frozen-in-front-of-a-screen time, so that I’m able to balance out the indoors life with lovely (barefoot, of course) runs several days a week in our local hills.

barefoot runner on the horizon

Another mental health tool has been limiting news and media exposure; the challenge is to stay informed just enough so I know what NOT to discuss with friends & family.

However, now that I can no longer ignore the festering infection of systemic racism made so apparent by recent events, my challenge is how to engage, not in rhetoric, but in actions of love that ripple out, join with others, and create a tidal wave of change that this moment in history has created an opportunity for. (Yeah, I see that preposition at the end of that last sentence. There are bigger things to worry about now.)

” . . . but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

In the meantime, the burned-to-bare-dirt hills outside Orange are leading by example:

 

post fire superbloomers

Fire-followers bush mallow and deer plant 

 

nolina bloom in sun

Rising from burnt stubs: chaparral nolina, rather rare and declining in numbers.

prickly pear in bloom

The glorious prickly pear

 

cactus wren

Cactus wren so at home it sings in its prickly pear lair.

matilijas in sun

The 2017 “Canyon Fire 2” seemed to remove every trace of vegetation from the hills surrounding Irvine Park; almost three years later, the resiliency of California native plants is evident in the exuberance of this mini-super-bloom that includes matilija poppies.

sticky monkey flower Mimulus aurantiacus

Sticky monkey flower. Say that three times fast and try not to smile 🙂

Red diamondback rattler

And . . . now that the native plants have returned after the fire, the food web can work its magic.

coiled red diamondback

 

golden yarrow Eriophyllum confertiflorum

Golden yarrow thrives on a north-facing slope at Irvine Park together with delicate pink blossoms of the California native plant with my favorite name: Farewell-to-spring.

Farewell-to-spring. Ten days till the summer solstice. A new season in so many ways.

 

Staying barefoot and hopeful (after a trip-of-a-lifetime is cut short)

April 14, 2020

Chalk greetings

[grandkid art]

Greetings from the land of “Safe At Home.”

How the world has changed since my last blog post.

Instead of spending the month of March on a long-planned road trip to the East Coast, Steve and I had to turn around in Louisiana, only a week into what was supposed to be an epic loop through the South, hanging out with friends and family and doing some family history research.

It was in Hot Springs, AR, on the morning of Friday, March 13, while looking at a sign posted on the front door of the Garland County Historical Society building, “closed due to health/virus/pandemic/etc” . . . that I realized our adventure–and more importantly, the lives of so many people directly affected by contracting the disease or caring for others with it–was taking a turn we could never have imagined a few months ago.

Thanks be to God we made it home and have a safe place to hunker down, with indoor plumbing, plenty of (non-hoarded) toilet paper, potable water, and a good internet connection that brings the privilege of online interactions with family and friends. (But dang I miss hugging those grandkids!)

(And dang I’m tired of sitting in front of a computer screen.)

(AND  dang . . . so much collective emotional overload of sadness and stress brought on by the news.)

So here’s a diversion, a bunch of photos that, when I was just perusing them and deciding which ones to include (you’ll notice I had a difficult time paring them down . . .) that . . . that . . . where was I . . . oh yeah: I hope this collection will inspire you to look through your own photos of good times and breathe out gratitude and then call someone to see if they need cheering more than you right now.

(Around here, that would be my 93-year-old mom on lockdown in her senior community 90 miles away.)

ocotillo and cholla sunrise

Our road trip started out in early March with our annual Anza Borrego State Park family campout. (Now, of course, all CA state parks are closed.)

Not quite a superbloom year, but shrubs such as encelia (left) and chuparosa (right) were still stunning, especially in the morning light.

After going most of my life without a glimpse of these agile creatures, the last several years have provided some epic sightings of desert bighorn sheep (because they are getting much more used to human intrusion?). My morning writing session, usually a desert-quiet-time of quail call and bee hum, was punctuated this time with the clatter of rock scatter as the bighorns plunged down the steep cliffs to the valley floor, where rifle-shot retorts echoed off the mountain when they smacked spiral horns.

 

morning desert writing

Later in the morning, our group of happy campers headed to the other side of Font’s Point (pictured below) for a hike near the badlands.

sunrise over fonts point march 2020

Then it was time to head east: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and beyond?

AZ highways

Things began as a beautiful blur of desert highway, followed by overnights in RV parks when we ran out of daylight.

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One day we took a break from ENDLESS HOURS OF DRIVING to spend time with Texas friends at the Dallas Botanical Garden (now closed to the public due to you-know-what). It was tulip (and more) festival time. Much beauty to behold!

A floral show of a different kind met us at the historical Hollywood Cemetery in Hot Springs, AR, where my uncle and grandmother are buried. Finding their graves was to be a highlight of the family-research part of our road trip.

Was to be . . . or not to be?

hollywood cemetery AR

It seems the place fell on hard times, and the new management company has no records other than what the Garland County Historical Society has managed to create by visiting and mapping whatever graves have survived decades of neglect.

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Still . . . it was a powerful experience to wander around and imagine my toddler father here, not once, but twice, as his younger brother died at eleven months old in 1928 and his family returned the next year to bury his mother, who died the day after giving birth to my dad’s youngest sister.

So much tragedy for a three-year-old . . . with more to come as my dad’s father abandoned him and his two sisters to an orphanage the next year, promising my dad to return for him. This bit of hope kept my father from pushing to the front when prospective families would come to adopt a child; this reticence is what his adopted mother later told him was why she chose him.

They did a good job with my dad (not perfect; what parental experience is . . . including yours truly’s), and he went on to be a much better father than his trauma-filled childhood should have allowed. (Which he would attribute to the grace of God, and I can only concur from the 20-20 hindsight of digging into his biological family history.)

It was while we were in Hot Springs that the corona virus situation started to become “real” . . . the closures were beginning . . . and we barely made it to our Louisiana cousins for a traditional crawdad feast before the barrage of news-and-rumors drove us to the decision we better high-tail it home before some kind of national lockdown.

After “miles and miles of Texas” . . . what a welcome Welcome sight:

welcome to Cali

(If you’ve seen Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, you’ll know why I took the photos, above.)

view from the kitchen

Thus endeth the road trip. See ya next time, Florida and North Carolina and Tennessee and Kansas friends & relatives & state archives.

Now we’re home, enjoying a bird’s eye view (a horrific pun, I know) of all the excitement of spring unfolding in our back yard (especially around the fountain):

Bullocks oriole 3 28 20 Orange CA

Townsends warbler 3 28 20 Orange CA

And . . . when it’s not raining (which it has been in an unusual fashion for the last month) I know where to go for my social-distance-wildflower-fix:

Time to shed some layers . . . and greet today’s (finally!) sunny weather with a smile and a run.

coiled snake skinStay safe out there! We’re in this together!

pandemic trail rules

trail time during pandemic

Happy (non-virusy) trails . . .

 

I’m Baaack . . . and so are the Wildflowers

February 24, 2020

barefoot fence walk sunset

After weeks of an exhausting cough and feeling stuffy and yucky, I’m thanking God that my lungs and throat and nose breathing apparatus are all back to seventh-decade-optimal working order.

And I’m running again. (Or hiking along fence rails, as the above photos shows.)

The photo below, from a recent visit to Grand Canyon, shows the faint line of trail from Indian Garden (the darker foliage) to Plateau Point–an amazing place where I once enjoyed a sunset dinner during a six-day trip across.

South Rim Jan 2010

I might be smilin’ on the outside, but inside I was nothing but a hot mess of a hacking nose-faucet, drawn to the South Rim in mid-winter for a two-day class to recertify as a Wilderness First Responder.

NOLS sticker

This is the certification required by the Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute–with it I can continue to teach creative writing workshops . . . at both the North AND South Rims this summer!

WFR training fake bruise

Every two years, WooFeRs (Wilderness First Responders) spend a LOT of time going through realistic (note the stage blood and bruise make-up) scenarios; students take turns as both patient and first responder, with lots of debriefing and discussion and some classroom time as well. (The NOLS instructors are awesome!)

WFR awards

My classmates were awesome as well, and the ones I teamed up with for the tibia/fibula fracture . . . and then humerus fracture . . . splinting practice were so good we “won” the prizes for both! (Prizes pictured above: a wound irrigating syringe as reward for our amazing leg splint and a wound care pack for our neat ‘n’ tidy upper arm splint and sling.)

Then it was time to head home and enjoy the grandkids; here’s the youngest one checking out the manzanita (and lupine!) bloom in our yard.

Mickey kid and manzanita

We also got to head north to visit the older grandsons, who did not go hiking with me at Montana de Oro State Park, instead choosing to stay home and play basketball with their dad and grandpa. Go figure.

The Coon Creek Trail, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, had few hikers and plenty of splendid native plants, including these squiggly coast live oaks. (Photo credit: my hiking companion and super-amazing daughter Tina C. Davidson.)

Thea under oak Coon creek

Here’s a plant that stumped me, as well as a few other hikers who: 1) I asked, “What is it?” or 2) Asked me, “What is it?”

Toadshades. Narrowpetal Wakerobin. Trillium augustipetalum. Whatever you want to call it, you won’t find it growing around my home ground (Orange County, CA, wildlands).

You will find this striking plant (and its plethora of cousins) spread across North America, though; it is “the widest ranging of all American endemics, native to more states (twenty-nine of them) than any other plant group confined to the United States,” according to an article in Pacific Horticulture that laments trillium’s under-appreciation as well as its ongoing disappearance from California shady places.

There was more shady beauty to be found along Coon Creek: shelf fungus.

fungi fest

And another plant I had never seen, although it has many purply-blueish cousins in Orange County: Sticky phacelia (Phacelia viscida), covered stem-to-bud with tiny tacky hairs.

Phacelia viscosa at Coon Creek

Yes: it’s wildflower season in So Cal!

Sadly, since the rainy season was less than drench-tacular this year, Orange County is not experiencing anything near a superbloom, but there are still lovelies to discover:

western sunflower from below

Western sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

tidy tips end of day

Tidy tips (Layia platyglossa)

lupine in shadow

Lupine sp.

wild cucumber on chain link

Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)

. . . and this one, with curvy leaves as vivid as flowers . . .

laurel sumac red new leaves

Laurel sumac (Malosma laurina)

Up on the ridge, near the intersection of Hawk and Grasshopper:

hawk and grasshopper intersection

. . . hilltopping butterflies!

painted lady and shadow

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)

plastic bottlecap trash

Not hilltopping . . . just polluting . . .

Then I found this round thing like a bottlecap fallen from the sky . . .

moon reflection

Moon reflection in sluggish Santiago Creek

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying / In the yellow haze of the sun

sun rays and oak

All of this flower-trash-moon-cloud watching sometimes takes my attention from the matter at hand (or foot): stepping safely.

And my toe smacks a rock or root, and $#^% happens. (Sigh. Not again. You can see that this toenail had barely grown in from my last rocky get-together.)

bloody toe

Is it worth going barefoot for the occasional toe collision?

tidy tips and toes

Ahhh . . . to feel the trail . . . dust or rock or mud or leaf . . . as a student once wrote during a “take your shoes off and write” session back in my teaching days: “It’s like flossing your feet with the world.”

So. Worth. It.

Happy (toe-flossing) Trails!