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(Barefoot) Return to Anza Borrego Desert State Park

March 2, 2015

The past five years of our annual late winter visit to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, I have been able (blessed! ecstatic!) to spend the weekend camping without shoes.

That’s right: barefoot. In the desert.

And I’m extra-pleased when my grandkids join me in wandering shoelessly around camp and up the Palm Canyon trail. They are smart kids who know when to put their shoes on to keep it fun. No pressure from Grammy, just do what you need to be able to run and climb and have a good time in this beautiful place.

My siblings (we are all grandparents now . . . yikes) still give me a bit of a hard time about it, but I’m the youngest, and have always been subject to this birth-order-inspired ribbing. As the years passed, though, I began to realize the joke’s on them: Yeah, I’m the youngest. Pick on me all you want, ’cause we may all be old now, but I’M STILL THE YOUNGEST.

OK. That’s out of my system.

It’s actually a great legacy our folks left: they first took us camping here in 1962, and this many years later, four of the seven of us were able to return and reminisce in a place that is much older than we are.

Speaking of having seven siblings camping here: our mother loves to tell the story of time (somewhere in the 1960s) the park ranger came by our campsite, counted heads, and solemnly proclaimed that the campground regulations called for no more than eight people per site . . . eliciting this response from Mom: “Which one should I send home, the youngest or the oldest?”

So every year those of us who are able to sneak away from our busy So Cal lives make the windy drive down Montezuma Grade to the Palm Canyon Group Campground (since there are way more than nine of us these days).

We were fortunate enough to witness both wildflowers and gentle rain this weekend; here’s a few images to encourage others to visit one of Southern California’s most beautiful and barefoot-friendly places–the trails are so well-traveled my toes have never been punctured by a single cactus spine (well, almost never: there was that hike to Hellhole Canyon several years ago . . . but we weren’t really on a trail at the time my sole found a fallen cholla cactus branch.)

This lovely caterpillar will one day be a white-lined sphinx moth. Hello, toes!

This lovely tubby caterpillar will one day be a white-lined sphinx moth. Hello, toes!

Hiking just a bit up the Palm Canyon trail before sunrise yields all kinds of fine photo ops, like this silhouette of Font's Point and ocotillo. The bird-like structures at the end of the branch arms are vivid red flowers.

Hiking just a bit up the Palm Canyon trail before sunrise yields all kinds of fine photo ops, like this silhouette of Font’s Point and ocotillo. The bird-like structures at the end of the branch arms are vivid red flowers.

Another bright red desert bloomer: chuparosa, favorite flower of hummingbirds. (I think this is a Costa's hummingbird perched here.)

Another bright red desert bloomer: chuparosa, favorite flower of hummingbirds. (I think this is a Costa’s hummingbird perched here.)

Where there's wildflowers, there's butterflies--difficult to catch with my terrible little point-and-shoot camera, but this California Patch butterfly politely posed long enough for me to get this image.

Where there’s wildflowers, there’s butterflies–difficult to catch with my terrible little point-and-shoot camera, but this California Patch butterfly politely posed long enough for me to get this image.

How spectacular the annual wildflower show will be depends on the amount, intensity, and timing of the winter rains. I would rate this year "pretty good" . . . I've seen more (who remembers spring 2005?!), but even one or two blooms is enough to put a smile on my face. Here's one of many desert sand verbenas to be found, some in sweeping swaths.

How spectacular the annual wildflower show will be depends on the amount, intensity, and timing of the winter rains. I would rate this year “pretty good” . . . I’ve seen more (who remembers spring 2005?!), but even one or two blooms is enough to put a smile on my face. Here’s one of many desert sand verbenas to be found, some in sweeping swaths.

Wildflowers at dawn . . . brilliant! (This is desert brittlebush, Encelia farinosa.)

Wildflowers at dawn . . . brilliant! (This is desert brittlebush, Encelia farinosa.)

Along with the annual wildflowers, the cholla cactus are lighting up the desert right now.

Along with the annual wildflowers, the cholla cactus are lighting up the desert right now.

When we finally reached the stream in Palm Canyon,  I celebrated with one of my granddaughters by cooling our toes.

When we finally reached the stream in Palm Canyon, I celebrated with one of my granddaughters by cooling our toes.

This granddaughter made a point of scaling every boulder she could along the trail.

This granddaughter made a point of scaling every boulder she could along the trail.

These coupled master blister beetles  fascinated the grandkids (and me too).

These coupled master blister beetles fascinated the grandkids (and me too).

Jack rabbit ears: transformed in the slanting light.

Jack rabbit ears: transformed in the slanting light.

All the grandkids got a kick out the doorless, roofless stone restrooms (but they were flush toilets . . . go figure).

All the grandkids got a kick out the doorless, roofless stone restrooms (but they were flush toilets . . . go figure).

And of course the Ricardo Breceda metal sculptures scattered around Borrego Springs (on private land) are always fun for kids to stare at.

And of course the Ricardo Breceda metal sculptures scattered around Borrego Springs (on private land) are always fun for kids to stare at.

A favorite ritual: leave camp in the bird-song--filled dark, and head for the Palm Canyon wash to find a granite perch to watch the desert day come to life.

A favorite ritual: leave camp in the bird-song–filled dark, and head for the Palm Canyon wash to find a granite perch to watch the desert day come to life.

Barefoot Wandering and Writing at Anza Borrego Desert State Park: our annual family pilgrimage that brings back memories for me, and creates new ones for my grandkids.

Barefoot Wandering and Writing at Anza Borrego Desert State Park: our annual family pilgrimage that brings back memories for me, and creates new ones for my grandkids.

Until next year . . .

Until next year . . .

Why I do this

February 21, 2015

I’ve been blogging away here at Barefoot Wandering and Writing for a few years, aiming for a post a week, not always hitting that goal, but also aiming to not feel too much pressure. As I mentioned four or five times to mountain bikers today who felt compelled to comment on my shoe-less-ness, I run barefoot because it’s fun, and I want this blog to be more pleasure than pain as well.

I just scrolled waaayyyy down to find my first WordPress post . . . dated 8/28/10. Then I remembered that I had a Blogspot blog for a short time before that . . . and did a search to find that first post. It was actually from my “pre-barefoot” days . . . but one month later, the record of my barefoot journey begins. Here’s a quote from the end of that piece:

“So far I’ve been out 14 times (yep. I’m counting) in mud and streams and dust and sand and lots of rocks. It’s all challenging fun. Gravel does get old fastest. Mud is squishy cool. Aged piles of horse poop are like golden-bleached pillows. Leaping good times.”

It’s all challenging fun. 

That’s why I do it . . . and that’s what today was like, a chilly (low 60s is a chilly winter day here in So Cal), wild-flower-filled romp up and down Barham Ridge for an hour.

After 10+ years of excruciating, run-stopping left knee pain that I’ve thrown all kinds of money at to find a fix, I feel incredibly blessed (and very grateful to my “physio team” of Dr. Derrick Sueki at Knight Physical Therapy as well as Darcia Dexter, Movement Educator) to be able to run with ease for an hour or more up and down steep, sometimes-rocky hills with a smile on my face and nothing on my feet.

Why do I do this? Because the wildlands of Orange County are places of amazing biodiversity, and barefoot trail running gets me out there to appreciate them. My little camera does its best to record a fraction of the beauty I witness, and I spend a bit of time every week or so to lay it all out on this blog, hoping others wander this way and feel inspired to love and appreciate this place or their own local wildlands.

That’s it, too: I want my running and writing to inspire others. (I just re-skimmed an excellent article on Writing-World.com titled “To Blog or Not to Blog.” Like all the other pieces on this helpful web site, it contained much useful information, but there was nothing here about “inspiration” as a reason to blog.)

What got me thinking about this is I just remembered one of today’s mountain biker comments . . . as I scooted to the side of the Chutes Trail to avoid the hurtling mass of man and aluminum tubing headed my way, I heard a voice say, “You’re OK.” (This I assumed referred to the fact that I was far enough off the trail to avoid collision.) Then he continued, “That’s pretty inspiring.” (And this I assumed was a reference to the fact that I was barefoot–and not to the length of my awesomely ratty gray granny braid.)

So here’s a batch of what I hope are inspiring images from my latest runs:

Wooly darkling beetle meet-up.

Wooly darkling beetle meet-up.

Looking down the Chutes Trail from Barham Ridge . . . between Irvine Park and Santiago Oaks.

Looking down the Chutes Trail from Barham Ridge . . . between Irvine Park and Santiago Oaks.

Our Orange County wildflowers know how to get along with their prickly neighbors. So should we . . .

Our Orange County wildflowers know how to get along with their prickly neighbors. So should we . . .

Wildflowers bring butterflies . . . this is (I think) and American Lady nectaring on Wild Hyacinth (Dichelostema capitatum).

Wildflowers bring butterflies . . . this (I think) is an American Lady nectaring on Wild Hyacinth (Dichelostema capitatum).

The first sighting of the season: Catalina Mariposa Lily in all its fragile glory.  "Consider the lilies of the field." Matthew 6:28

The first sighting of the season: Catalina Mariposa Lily in all its fragile glory.
“Consider the lilies of the field.” Matthew 6:28

Same flower, different vantage point.

Same flower, different vantage point.

Red Maids: common in some areas, rare along the Chutes Trail.

Red Maids: common in some areas, rare along the Chutes Trail.

Same flower, different vantage point (with toes).

Same flower, different vantage point (with toes).

Wishbone flower.

Wishbone flower.

Lots of wishbone flowers.

Lots of wishbone flowers.

Phacelia and friends.

Phacelia and friends.

I think this is a Northern White Skipper . . .

I think this is a Northern White Skipper . . .

These three ladies inspired me with their teamwork pushing each other up this steep section of the Chutes Trail.

These three ladies inspired me with their teamwork pushing each other up this steep section of the Chutes Trail.

Two common wildflowers looking uncommonly fabulous as a pair.

Two common wildflowers looking uncommonly fabulous as a pair.

Not to be confused with mariposa lilies: this is wild morning glory. How I helped myself remember when I was first figuring this out: the MORNING glory's flower is one solid CUP (like a cup of coffee in the morning). The mariposa lily is separated into three petals.

Not to be confused with mariposa lilies: this is wild morning glory. How I helped myself remember when I was first figuring this out: the MORNING glory’s flower is one solid CUP (like a cup of coffee in the morning). The mariposa lily is separated into three petals.

From the top of Barham Ridge is a fine view of the Pacific Ocean, where container ships are lined up from here to wherever, stuck at sea because of a labor dispute in the ports of L.A. and Long Beach.

From the top of Barham Ridge is a fine view of the Pacific Ocean, where container ships are lined up from here to wherever, stuck at sea because of a labor dispute in the ports of L.A. and Long Beach.

Why do I do this? For the rush of sailing along a brushy trail in mountain lion country and getting my heart startled by a great crashing in the thicket . . . that turns out to be a barefoot deer stotting the heck out of my way. (Stotting=when they bounce away on four stiff legs.) This curious lady and I had one good long gaze at each other. That's why.

Why do I do this? For the rush of sailing along a brushy trail in mountain lion country and getting my heart startled by a great crashing in the thicket . . . that turns out to be a barefoot mule deer stotting the heck out of my way. (Stotting=when they bounce away on four stiff legs.) This curious lady and I had one good long gaze at each other. That’s why.

barefoot trail running

Wandering and wildflowers: February blossoms in Orange County’s wildlands

February 7, 2015

poppies in limestone canyon

It’s wildflower time in Orange County’s wild foothills! Today I went for a wander in Limestone Canyon, doing my duty as an Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteer on an “open access day” — those few times a year these ecologically sensitive trails are opened to the public. From my vantage point on the Sandtrap Trail, I had a good view of the hundreds of folks headed for “The Sinks,” billed as the “Grand Canyon of Orange County.” Having visited the Grand Canyon a few times, I can safely say it’s not even close; however, it is a fabulous destination for nature lovers who want a nice destination on a sunny February morning.

crowds hiking in Limestone anyon

Here are a bunch more photos from this most pleasant morning:

Old Saddleback in the clouds

While it was indeed sunny, a few clouds spent the morning playing around the summit of “Old Saddleback.”

barefoot animal tracks

Really juicy-looking lemonade berries along the trail.

Really juicy-looking lemonade berries along the trail.

Sandtrap Trail marker

Irvine Lake from Limestone Ridge

Irvine Lake far below. Note the low water level; we need rain!

nightshade

IMG_3729

red paintbrush

wishbone flower

buckwheat

phacelia

rattlesnake flower

poppies

Lots to be thankful for . . . a sunny (mostly) barefoot morning, enjoying wildflowers in Limestone Canyon!

Barefoot Winter Wandering: Near and Really Near

January 29, 2015

If it’s January, it must be 70+ degrees (F). Time to enjoy the sun-warmed clay trails in my local Orange County wild lands:

Heading up out of Santiago Oaks Regional Park on the Oak Trail, enjoying a warm January afternoon.

Heading up out of Santiago Oaks Regional Park on the Oak Trail, enjoying a warm January afternoon: no shoes, no shirt, no service required, just a nice winding uphill.

Howdy, hikers!

Such a fine day: the tunnels of oak shadow through new green growth draw lots of hikers.

Such a fine day: seems like the tunnels of oak shadow through new green growth are a nature play magnet for not-just-me.

On a brilliant day, clouds only make the blue more intense.

I am going out on a cloudy limb and calling these "lenticulars." Many years ago I took remember a professor told us students in his geology class that anyone who brought him a photo of lenticular clouds taken that semester would get an automatic "A." Here you go, Prof. Unremembered Name.

I am going out on a cloudy memory limb and calling this formation over Old Saddleback “lenticular.” Many years ago I took remember a professor telling us students in his geology class that anyone who brought him a photo of lenticular clouds taken that semester would get an automatic “A.” Here you go, Prof. Unremembered Name . . .

In amongst the non-native grasses, tucked in and around the native shrubs, the wildflowers are beginning to appear:

The first wildflowers of the season at Santiago Oaks: wild hyacinth (Dichelostema capitatum).

The first wildflowers of the season at Santiago Oaks: wild hyacinth (Dichelostema capitatum).

Santiago Creek has a bit of refreshingly chilly water right now; after big winter storms this placid trickle rages dangerously, and there’s no getting across for days or weeks. That’s weather we haven’t had for years and years.

The best part about trail running barefoot at Santiago Oaks . . . crossing Santiago Creek to begin and end the adventure.

The best part about trail running barefoot at Santiago Oaks . . . crossing Santiago Creek to begin and end the adventure.

On my recent run, I discovered newly dug trail “improvements” that are not that at all if you’re a slow moving biped or quadriped.

It's a bit disheartening to see all the trail "enhancing" going on at Santiago Oaks . . . berming the curves like this does not seem like the work of equestrians or hikers, who fear the high speeds this kind of trail encourages in the wheeled community . . .

It’s a bit disheartening to see all the trail “enhancing” going on at Santiago Oaks . . . berming the curves like this does not seem like the work of equestrians or hikers, who fear the high speeds this kind of trail work encourages in the wheeled community . . .

Meanwhile, back in the city . . .

Here's a wild hyacinth happily ringing its blue-purple bells in my back yard. Planting native plants at home in suburbia allows me to "wander" happily even on days when I can't make it to the trails outside town.

Here’s a wild hyacinth happily ringing its blue-purple bells in my back yard. Planting native plants at home in suburbia allows me to “wander” happily even on days when I can’t make it to the trails outside town.

Howard McMinn manzanita, you are one handsome plant!

Back-yard manzanita: after killing a few of these, I have found the "secret" -- plant on a mound with decomposed granite added, and sprinkle the leaves without soaking the soil every so often on a summer's morning.

Back-yard manzanita: after killing a few of these, I have found the “secret” — plant on a mound with decomposed granite added, and sprinkle the leaves without soaking the soil every so often on a summer’s morning.

The smooth red bark and delicate branch patterns make manzanita fabulous year 'round, even after the delicate bell-blooms fade.

The smooth red bark and delicate branch patterns make manzanita fabulous year ’round, even after the delicate bell-blooms fade.

Lupine love in the garden! These things re-seed to readily, I've been pulling them out by the handfuls lately to make room for some of the other (smaller) wild flowers.

Lupine love!  These things re-seed so readily, I’ve been pulling them out by the handfuls to make room for some of the other (smaller) wild flowers.

Can a person ever have too many blue flowers? "I think not," says this ceanothus.

Can a person ever have too many blue flowers? “I think not,” says this ceanothus.

This is not the highest quality photo . . . it was taken through my kitchen window this morning as a flock of gorgeous cedar waxwings descended upon this year's bounty crop of native toyon berries.

Not the highest quality photo . . . it was taken through my kitchen window this morning as a flock of smooth-yet-flashy cedar waxwings descended upon this year’s bounty crop of native toyon berries.

The birds had a good time hot-tubbin' it after gettin' a buzz on from the fermenting berries.

Just a few feet from my back door . . . having a back yard fountain does wonders for attracting both resident and migrating birds (these cedar waxwings are just passin’ through).

Here they are doing their "restless roost" thing in the unleaved desert willow.

Here they are doing their “restless roost” thing in the unleaved desert willow . . . cedar waxwings, always on the run . . . from . . .

And now the only bird around is our neighborhood Cooper's hawk who zoomed over to see what all the ruckus was about.

. . . . neighborhood cannibals  like this Cooper’s hawk who zoomed over to see what all the ruckus was about. The waxwings wisely got the heck out of Dodge. It’s a bird-eat-bird world, even in the city.

Besides being a fabulous time to trail run on sunny trails through green hills and fields of wild flowers, January in Southern California is citrus season.  I drink a toast of tangerine juice to living in this amazing place (that is jam-packed with millions of others who have discovered the charms of year-round sunshine, for better or worse).

Besides being a fabulous time to trail run on sunny trails through green hills and fields of wild flowers, January in Southern California is citrus season. I raise a toast of tangerine juice . . . here’s to living in this amazing place (that is unsurprisingly jam-packed with millions of others who have discovered the charms of year-round sunshine, for better or worse).

Welcome February . . . what kind of wildflowers await?

Five years of barefoot running . . . and my soles were tender today

January 18, 2015

As I mentioned in a recent post, Jan. 2015 marks five years since I hesitantly took off my sandals and tried to navigate a smooth clay local loop with my feet feeling the ground.

This shoeless half-decade has had its ups and downs (literally! I love to run hills!), as I get super bummed when my body uses pain (knee, calf, ankle, foot, hip, lower back . . . quite the list) to get my attention and remind me there are issues that still need dealing with . . . nope, losing my shoes did not turn me into a running machine.

However, with the help of some creative-thinking-super-skilled physical therapists, I have been able to keep enjoying trails both near and far (from Irvine Regional Park at the edge of my hometown of Orange, CA, USA, to Wallowa County, OR, to the Grand Canyon).

Each time I hike and run in God’s creation, I try to be consciously grateful for the fact that, in spite of having over half a century of miles on my odometer (is it time to rotate the tires yet?), I feel pretty dang good for a gray-haired granny.

Which brought me to today–just back from a four-day native plant conservation conference (four days of learning! yay! four days of sitting! boo!), I could not wait to get out on my favorite local trail and visit my favorite local native plants in the hills outside of Irvine Park.  A couple hours (and plenty of photos) later, I was surprised to notice a bit of raw feel zizzing up my nervous system to my brain. “Hey, silly! You haven’t run this far for months, and the trails are nothin’ but exposed rock bits after last weeks lovely rains. Take it easy next time.”

“Oops,” was all I could reply to myself as I eased my feet into a warm bath of tea-tree-oil infused water. “Guess I got just a bit carried away by the lovely 70-degree January afternoon. I’ll try to run a little more responsibly next time, and maybe take 100 photos instead of only 50.”

After re-living the enchantment of the run as I cropped and culled images, I chose way too many to end this post with . . . see below . . . and as far as the sore soles go . . . it’s a good reminder that “use it or lose it” applies to barefoot skills, just like to our brain health.

Happy Trails! I am looking forward to some good miles in 2015 . . . time to get outside and enjoy both running and native plants!

San Jose, CA: The 2015 California Native Plant Society Conservation Conference. Here's the info poster our Orange County chapter had on display.

San Jose, CA: The 2015 California Native Plant Society Conservation Conference. Here’s the info poster our Orange County chapter had on display last week.

My favorite sessions at the conference had to do with botanical illustration. I feel a new obsession coming on . . .

My favorite sessions at the conference had to do with botanical illustration. I feel a new obsession coming on . . .

Botanical illustration workshop examples.

Botanical illustration workshop examples.

Yuck. I ended up spending way too much time barefoot walking on the hotel treadmill. What a sorry substitute for a trail . . .

Yuck. I ended up spending way too much time barefoot walking on the hotel treadmill. What a sorry substitute for a trail . . .

Did somebody say trail? I was so happy to greet this darkling beetle today; he was not as thrilled, and refused to waste energy trekking up and over my toes; he turned aside and kept heading for the other side of the trail.

Did somebody say trail? I was so happy to greet this darkling beetle today. Unfortunately, he was not as thrilled, and refused to waste energy trekking up and over my toes; he turned aside and kept heading for the other side of the trail.

This was weird; I found a "nest" of plastic spiders at the base of a favorite ancient oak. The tree asked me to get rid of them. (They were left-over decorations from the "Spooky Raptor Run" race I participated in last October.) I had a feeling that I should walk around the tree today, and when I did I found these spiders half-buried in the dirt. After posing them for this photo, I carried them off to a more suitable habitat.

This was weird; I found a “nest” of plastic spiders at the base of a favorite ancient oak. The tree asked me to get rid of them. (They were left-over decorations from the “Spooky Raptor Run” race I participated in last October.) I had a feeling that I should walk around the tree today, and when I did I found these spiders half-buried in the dirt. After posing them for this photo, I carried them off to a more suitable habitat.

Finding this sh!# along the trail turns my smile upside down. Who thinks this is the thing to do, to just suck their  sugar down and chuck the foil packet wherever.

Finding this sh!# along the trail turns my smile upside down. Who thinks this is the thing to do, to just suck their sugar down and chuck the foil packet wherever?

All the native shrubs are so pleasantly plump after recent rains. Here's one to nibble: Thick-leaved yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium).

All the native shrubs are so pleasantly plump after recent rains. Here’s one to nibble: Thick-leaved yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium).

Lemonade berry's flowers give promise of tangy fruit to come.

Lemonade berry’s flowers give promise of tangy fruit to come.

Laurel sumac's signature pointy leaves against the

Laurel sumac’s signature pointy leaves against warm January cloud puffs.

California sagebrush . . . magically transformed from drought deciduous shrunken stubs to fully fabulous  & fragrant leaf fingers.

California sagebrush . . . magically transformed from drought deciduous shrunken stubs to fully fabulous & fragrant leaf fingers.

Thick-leaved lilac . . . a super-rare shrub in these parts. I can't wait for the puffs of white blossoms to fluff out soon.

Thick-leaved lilac . . . a super-rare shrub in these parts. I can’t wait for these buds to puff into white blossoms soon.

And what would an afternoon on the trails be like without herds of mountain bikers along the trail? (A rhetorical question that needs no answer . . . )

And what would an afternoon on the trails be like without herds of mountain bikers along the trail? (A rhetorical question that needs no answer . . . )

Five years of barefoot trail running = miles and miles of rocky, dusty, muddy, greeny smiles

January 4, 2015

Back in January 2010, I attended a bird behavior (if you have to ask . . . you won’t understand) event early one chilly morning at O’Neil Park. (I’ve told this story in these pages before, but it’s been a while . . . .) I noticed two young men wearing something unusual on their feet: nothing.

After making a few joking asides to one of my fellow bird-friends (“Where’s their shoes? Don’t they know it’s the middle of winter?”) I started wondering what would make otherwise intelligent-seeming (they were interested in bird behavior too, for cryin’ out loud) people traipse around the wild hills of Orange County . . . barefoot.

This blog became the record of my wondering (and much researching), which turned into barefoot wandering, which has now become a middle-age obsession (but a good one! like flossing once–oops, twice–a day!).

So you’d think my teeth would be immune to rot, and my running would be injury-free.

Nope.

I just had root canal #2, and my physical therapy costs me way more than a new pair of Newtons each month.

Why do I keep doing it then?

(Well, I’m flossing ’cause I’m highly susceptible to internet health info, and I read online a couple of years ago that there was some kind of link between sketchy oral hygiene and dementia.)

(Come to think of it, I really like parentheses, too).

And I keep shoelessly heading for the outskirts of my hometown of Orange, CA, to lope along the paths of coyotes and mule deer (I love to mingle my tracks with theirs), because I’m 55 years old, a grandma of five, graying and shrinking and wrinkling even as I write this, but the running has never been more fun.

To be out on the trail with nothing between me and God’s honest dirt (and the rocks that will someday become it, and the scat that testifies to the presence of so many wild friends) . . . I’ve been trying to find words to describe this feeling for five years here (as well as via a few guest posts on the generous Barefoot Beginner).

***

It’s a new year.

Nothing new about that insight. But today–after almost three weeks homebound with a nasty winter flu bug–I was able to stop coughing long enough to drive myself to the trailhead at Irvine Park. The chilly weird weather (snow-plows needed in the Santa Ana Mountains!) of last week had subsided, and 70-degrees-and-sunshine warmed my bones and my heart.

All my trail-side tree-compadres had survived the windstorm, and the sages were plumping and pungent in response to December’s rains. Rolled river rocks and damp packed clay greeted my feet–which had been worried about how they would be received after such an absence–and bird-calls rang like bells throughout the almost-lush underbrush. (Or it could have been my clogged left ear mis-hearing their song; even after ten days of antibiotics my inner ear still feels like the sewer pipe at the Italian restaurant whose owner was trying to save money on dumpster fees.)

Eighty minutes of bliss, then I was back at the car, not too sweaty since I took it easy heading up and down the six-hundred-foot-elevation-gain Chutes Trail (up to Barham Ridge).

Fifty photos later: here’s a few highlights.

I’m looking forward to my ear eventually unclogging, and a bunch more barefoot miles in 2015. God bless dirt! (And all the life it makes possible.)

Hills are da bomb!

Hills are da bomb!

This big old oak weathered the recent windstorm quite well.

This big old oak weathered the recent windstorm quite well, I was pleased to see.

For some reason, one prickly pear had not responded to the recent rains, and was still shriveled.

For some reason, one prickly pear had not responded to the recent rains, and was still shriveled.

But the rest of the prickly pads were all plumped up.

But the rest of the prickly pads were all plumped up.

There aren't too many coast cholla in this part of Orange County; bear grass is another rare-ish plant that grows along the Chutes Trail.

There aren’t too many coast cholla in this part of Orange County; bear grass is another rare-ish plant that grows along the Chutes Trail.

The cholla reproduce by letting go. The name "prolifera" might have something to do with what I found on the ground near the plant.

The cholla reproduce by letting go. The name “prolifera” might have something to do with what I found on the ground near the plant.

California sagebrush and white sage: both growing like crazy after the rain. As soon as it rains here, winter becomes a time of springing new growth in the foothills.

California sagebrush and white sage: both growing like crazy after the rain. As soon as the storms arrive, winter becomes a time of springing new growth in the foothills. (And those bud-looking things are actually the nondescript flowers of the sagebrush, one of the first bloomers of the year.)

Wow! The laurel sumac's red sprouts were a stunning contrast!

Wow! The laurel sumac’s red sprouts make for a stunning contrast . . .

Not too many folks on foot this afternoon, but plenty of mountain bikers.

Not too many folks on foot this afternoon, but plenty of mountain bikers.

This Painted Lady was out enjoying the sunny trails also.

This Painted Lady was out enjoying the sunny trails also.

"That's no Painted Lady, that's a barefoot runner."

“That’s no Painted Lady, that’s a barefoot runner.”

One last story (thanks for watching my slide show). It’s a new year, so a new parking pass needed to be bought today. I was surprised when the ranger behind the counter told me the price: $35. “That’s $20 cheaper than last year,” I remarked, knowing that I had just been charged the . . . ouch . . . senior citizen rate.

“Sorry,” replied the flustered youngster as she re-examined my drivers license. “I was trying to do the math in my head.”

Bless her math-befuddled heart; she was gracious enough to realize she’d just caused me at least $20 worth of age-angst, and when I signed the credit card slip, I was (somewhat) mollified to see she’d let the $35 price stand.

Has three weeks of sickness aged me that much?

Oh well . . . I just ran for over an hour, up and down rocky trails, pain-free . . . and shoe-free.

Did bare wet feet make me sick?

December 31, 2014

Earlier in December, Orange County was blessed with a wonderful, much-needed deluge (can’t wait till the wildflowers that have sprouted in response begin to bloom!); one cloud-burst left my back yard flooded for a few minutes, so of course I had to get out there and puddle-jump.

backyard puddle

Days later, I came down with a very bad case of upper respiratory flu, from which I am still recovering.

Of course “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” immediately comes to mind at times like this.

Don’t parents everywhere warn kids not to go outside and get their feet wet, or “they’ll catch their death of cold”?

Here’s what I found on the Cardiff University (UK) “Common Cold Centre” web site:

Can a chill cause a cold?

Folklore indicates that chilling such as getting your feet wet in winter and going out with wet hair may cause a common cold but until recently there has been no scientific research to support this idea. Recent research has demonstrated that chilling may cause the onset of common cold symptoms5. A study at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff UK in 2005 took 90 students and chilled their feet in cold water for 20 minutes and showed that the chilled group had twice as many colds over the next 5 days as a control group of 90 students whose feet were not chilled. The authors propose that when colds are circulating in the community some persons carry the virus without symptoms and that chilling the feet causes a constriction of blood vessels in the nose and this inhibits the immune response and defences in the nose and allows the virus to replicate and cause cold symptoms. The chilled person believes they have caught a cold but in fact the virus was already present in the nose but not causing symptoms.

Hmmm . . . interesting . . .  is this what happened to me?

All I know is I’ve been too sick to run for two weeks . . . which has served to make me grateful for the many days that I have been healthy enough to get out on the trails–in 2014, and throughout my running life. The gift of running is something that is to easy to take for granted when things are going well, and I hope this illness helps me to remain aware of what a privilege it is to be able to move smoothly (and shoelessly!) through Orange County’s sage-scented hills.

Here’s looking forward to better health, and more barefoot trail miles, in 2015 . . .

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