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A peculiar (unpeeled) puddle-print & plenty of painted plants . . .

April 12, 2015

barefoot mudprint

We had a freakish April rain a week ago–April showers are not the norm around here, even in non-drought times. So when I found this almost-disappeared bit of water in the middle of the trail, I had to stick my foot in it . . . one last sploosh of mud until who-knows-when. (Our next rain might not be until November . . . )

As for the overly-alliterative title to this blog post . . . it’s National Poetry Month, and alliteration is a very old Anglo-Saxon poetry technique. So there’s that.

I was going to use “barefoot” in parenthesis (SEO, baby), but then I got a bit obsessed with the “p” constraint, and decided a foot without a shoe has been peeled of an extraneous layer. “Final” had no such p-centric synonyms, so “peculiar” seemed a slightly related word (love my www.thesaurus.com!).

Despite the dryness of our times, we did have enough rain this past season to inspire some lovely native blossoms (“painted plants” is a terrible synonym, but what ya gonna do). Thus and so and here we go: the rest of this post is just. Flowers. California native wildflowers! (From a run in the hills outside of Irvine Regional Park two days ago . . .)

Southern pink (although it's definitely red: the "pink" refers to its "pinked" or cut edges"

Southern pink (although it’s definitely red: the “pink” refers to its “pinked” or cut edges”

Golden star: the name says it all.

Golden star: the name says it all.

The ubiquitous buckwheat--easy to ignore because it's everywhere . . . but so lovely nonetheless.

The ubiquitous buckwheat–easy to ignore because it’s everywhere . . . but so deserving of loving attention to its mottled, insect-attracting, blossoms.

White-flowered black sage. Go figure.

White-flowered black sage. Go figure.

Not so common in these parts: red paintbrush.

Not so common in these parts: red paintbrush.

A taste of brilliant -- and tangy -- lemonade berries is always a nice pick-me-up on a run.

A taste of brilliant — and tangy — lemonade berries is always a nice pick-me-up on a run.

Haven't ID'd this singer yet . . . I recorded his exuberance so I can listen to this song and be transported back here. (Grrr . . . the invasive yellow mustard is a discordant note indeed.)

Haven’t ID’d this singer yet . . . I recorded his exuberance so I can listen to this song and be transported back here. (Grrr . . . the invasive yellow mustard is a discordant note indeed.)

Still thriving in shady spots: a lush mossy soil carpet (unfortunately being chewed up by the ever-encroaching bike tires).

Still thriving in shady spots: a lush mossy soil carpet (unfortunately being chewed up by the ever-encroaching bike tires).

This delicate pink bloomer follows fire; the last time these trails burned was in 2005, but there are still some mallows lighting up the spring.

This delicate pink bloomer follows fire; the last time these trails burned was in 2005, but there are still some mallows lighting up the spring.

Stately elderberry . . . a skeleton for so many dry months of the year, now leafed out and producing masses of creamy umbels of tiny flowers that seem to be heaven for native bees and other tiny flyers. And the scent is heavenly to me . . . caught unawares by a slight sweetening of the air, then looking around and finding this familiar friend waving a perfumed greeting.

Stately elderberry . . . a skeleton for so many dry months of the year, now leafed out and producing masses of creamy umbels of tiny flowers that seem to be heaven for native bees and other tiny flyers. And the scent is heavenly to me . . . caught unawares by a slight sweetening of the air, then looking around and finding this familiar friend waving a perfumed greeting.

Slightly scented as well . . . but I'm a bit wary to stick my nose in this plants' bid-ness . . . sacred datura has been used for millenia by native peoples for ceremonial purposes, but is highly toxic in the hands of the uninitiated. But . . . such a lovely shade of slightest lavender . . .

Slightly scented as well . . . but I’m a bit wary to stick my nose in this plants’ bid-ness . . . sacred datura has been used for millenia by native peoples for ceremonial purposes, but is highly toxic in the hands of the uninitiated. But . . . such a lovely shade of slightest lavender . . .

Sure, the flowers get all the attention, but if you let your attention wander too long from the trail, these lovely stones have a way of making their presence known to shoeless feet . . .

Sure, the flowers get all the attention, but if you let your gaze wander too long from the trail, these lovely stones have a way of making their presence known to shoeless feet . . .

Beginning its late spring burst of yellow energy along a trail near you: tar plant (named for its strong aroma that reminds some folks of . . . tar).  We have (count 'em) six local species, four of them rare and endangered. (I'm not sure which one this is . . . guess I need to get keying . . . )

Beginning its late spring burst of yellow energy along a trail near you: tar plant (named for its strong aroma that reminds some folks of . . . tar). We have (count ’em) six local species, four of them rare and endangered. (I’m not sure which one this is . . . guess I need to get keying . . . )

Along the riparian "Willows" trail grow many: willows.  Some sections of trail have snow-like drifts of willow duff. When it floats down out of the trees on a very still spring morning, it reminds me of snowflakes (which is what an imagination is for).

Along the riparian “Willows” trail grow many: willows. Some sections of trail have snow-like drifts of willow duff. When it floats down out of the trees on a very still spring morning, it reminds me of snowflakes (which is what an imagination is for, right?).

I try to run early or late to avoid the crush of mountain bikers on the local trails . . . with no one else out and about but me 'n the wrentits, it's easy to imagine this place years before wheels came to be. I was happy to see this group go by, though:  a team of youngsters floating up the significantly steep Chutes trail like it was nothing. The future of trail running!

I try to run early or late to avoid the crush of mountain bikers on the local trails . . . with no one else out and about but me ‘n the wrentits, it’s easy to imagine this place years before wheels came to be. I was happy to see this group go by, though: a team of youngsters floating up the significantly steep Chutes trail like it was nothing. The future of trail running!

Our view at the top of Chutes and Barham Ridge trails.

Our view at the top of Chutes and Barham Ridge trails. Three million people go about their busy So Cal lives just beyond the edge of this image.

Another favorite view from Barham Ridge: the Santa Ana Mountains marching south.

Another favorite view from Barham Ridge: the Lomas de Santiago and Santa Ana Mountains marching along.

Almost back to the trailhead . . . one more squish in the mud . . . a fine way to start the day . . .

Almost back to the trailhead . . . one more squish in the mud . . . a fine way to start the day . . .

Spreading that Shoeless Groove

April 8, 2015

As the very fortunate coordinator of a community garden, I was able to welcome a group of young people today from a local transitional living home to tour the garden and plant corn . . . what fun we had examining roly-polys and spiders, making bouquets, sniffing herbs, and getting messy in the dirt.

What really did my heart good was when, about an hour into our garden time, I mentioned how good it felt to be shoeless, and several of the kids immediately decided to take off their tennies and spend the rest of the time planting corn . . . barefoot!

Here we are at the end of the planting session; by now half the kids had gotten rid of their shoes.

Here we are at the end of the planting session; by now half the kids had gotten rid of their shoes.

Spring in So Cal means sweet peas and sweet onions are ready to enjoy.

Spring in So Cal means sweet peas and sweet onions are ready to enjoy.

(Truth-in-barefoot-advertising-fine-print-advisory: after the kids left, I went for a stroll in a part of the garden where we have been battling milk thistle all winter/spring: ouch. Even after I got home, I still felt tiny spears jabbing me, and had to get out my needle/flashlight/magnifying glass kit for a little R&R . . .  rout and remove.)

National Poetry Month meets My Barefoot Wandering and Writing

April 2, 2015

April = National Poetry Month in the U.S.; the third week of April is California Native Plant Week in California.

I’m looking forward to combining both of these favorite subjects on April 18 when I will be presenting a poetry reading/slide show with my native-plant-and-poetry-buddy Chuck Wright. You’ll find us at 2:30 at the Cypress Branch Public Library, ready to share our love for the native plants and wild places of Orange County, CA. (I will be the one without shoes . . . hmmm . . . I hope the library doesn’t have a “no shoes/no reading” policy . . . )

Chuck under oak

Chuck the poet, hard at work.

toes and cottonwood leaf

I love cottonwood leaves & poetry & barefoot wandering . . .

non-native invasive black mustard near Irvine Park

Pure spring beauty or pure evil? Read on . . .

Here’s to National Poetry Month! (The following poem is in response to views like the one in the photo above showing Orange County’s annual bloom of non-native invasive mustard in our local hills . . . a display many folks think is “beautiful” . . . but if they knew how these plants have destroyed so much of California’s native grasslands . . . might they look at these yellow flowers in a whole new way?)

Like a golden dagger inlaid with emerald

and much admired for its gaudy decoration,
so these hills are venerated for
how they light up every year with shiny
grass and brilliant mustard glow.

What if one day you heard the story of
the dagger’s history: “With this weapon
so-and-so stabbed and killed
your great-great-grandfather. And his wife.”

I think about this sometimes after rain
stirs the patient hills back into color:
too-green sheen of noxious annuals,
yellow epidemic of mustard flower—

weapons of death in our Orange County wildlands.
What is in the eye of the beholder?

Spring has sprung & I have run! (Barefoot, of course!)

March 22, 2015

What a beautiful time of year . . . the days are lengthening, the California native wildflowers are blooming, and Orange County’s wild trails are calling!

Running barefoot uphill is completely different than shod; the lack of weight on your feet makes it possible to actually fly . . .

Running barefoot uphill is completely different than shod; the lack of weight on your feet makes it possible to actually fly . . .

The warm temps and wildflowers also make the butterflies happy, and many were out this morning, cruising through the coastal sage scrub, almost crashing into me more than once. How would a butterfly collision feel?

Although this butterfly's name is "Common Buckeye," it's uncommon to me--I have never spotted one along a local trail until today.

Although this butterfly’s name is “Common Buckeye,” it’s uncommon to me–I have never spotted one along a local trail until today.

What is more common along the trail than a “Common Buckeye”?

Why do folks think it's OK to just chuck these on the ground?  Earth to knuckle-head outdoors-person: it's NOT OK!

Why do folks think it’s OK to just chuck these on the ground?
Earth to knuckle-head outdoors-person: it’s NOT OK!

I feel as prickly as a coast cholla when I see trash along the trail . . .

I feel as prickly as a coast cholla when I see trash along the trail . . .

Today I was able to chill out with a tangy snack of lemonade berries . . . guaranteed to take your mind/mouth off of litterbugs . . .

Today I was able to chill out with a tangy snack of lemonade berries . . . guaranteed to take your mind/mouth off of litterbugs . . .

Hopping over/past/around/near side-blotched lizards is another way to get cheered up along the trail. There were so many lizards out cavorting today . . . I was hopeful there would be snakes on the trail as well . . . but not such luck. (I did see a beautiful  California king snake last week, but was without a camera that day.)

Hopping over/past/around/near side-blotched lizards is another way to get cheered up along the trail. There were so many lizards out cavorting today . . . I was hopeful there would be snakes on the trail as well . . . but not such luck. (I did see a beautiful California king snake last week, but was without a camera that day.)

This is the first time I've spotted Turkish Rugging in Santiago Oaks; I've seen it before along the Chutes Trail, but here it is one ridge over. Only two plants in this cliff-side population overlooking Weir Canyon--a fun surprise sighting.

This is the first time I’ve spotted Turkish Rugging in Santiago Oaks; I’ve seen it before along the Chutes Trail, but here it is one ridge over. Only two plants in this cliff-side population overlooking Weir Canyon–a fun surprise sighting.

Another rarity, at least in this place/at this time. . . . not too many chaparral yuccas are blooming right now, which makes this one all the more appreciated/spectacular.

Another rarity, at least in this place/at this time. . . . not too many chaparral yuccas are blooming right now, which makes this one all the more appreciated/spectacular.

These last few flowers sightings were near the Hawk Trail: "Not Recommended for Horses," but highly recommended if you like to take the steep, slippery, rocky, flowery path from up here to down there.

These last few flowers sightings were near the Hawk Trail: “Not Recommended for Horses,” but highly recommended if you like to take the steep, slippery, rocky, flowery path from up here to down there.

I have way too much fun with my little camera's 10-second timer. My goal today: get an image of me with my feet off the ground. Success! (after quite a few failures) This is back in the lower, tree-filled section of Santiago Oaks Regional Park.

I have way too much fun with my little camera’s 10-second timer. My goal today: get an image of me with my feet off the ground. Success! (after quite a few failures)
This is back in the lower, tree-filled section of Santiago Oaks Regional Park.

Near the creek: lush foliage indeed. Here the poison oak is weaving a nice tapestry with black sage and California sagebrush . . . hanging waaaayyy out onto the trail. Watch out, hikers!

Near the creek: lush foliage indeed. Here the poison oak is weaving a nice tapestry with black sage and California sagebrush . . . hanging waaaayyy out onto the trail. Watch out, folks!

And, of course, no run through Santiago Oaks is complete without a final foot-soak in Santiago Creek, still sludging along through this dry winter. I recall other months of March when this was a raging torrent, with no way to cross for weeks (if you valued your life).

And, of course, no run through Santiago Oaks is complete without a final foot-soak in Santiago Creek, still sludging along through this dry winter. I recall other months of March when this was a raging torrent, with no way to cross for weeks (if you valued your life).

Now it’s time to start another work week . . . in my windowless office, in front of a computer for much of the day . . . distracted by thoughts of dusty trails lined with such plant-and-critter beauty . . . “springing” all through our Orange County wildlands.

Death and life in the heat of winter

March 15, 2015

A record-setting end-of-winter heat wave these last few days: intense sunshine and temps in the mid-90s have made it a bit warm to run mid-day, but as the shadows lengthened Friday afternoon, I was ready to see how the wildflowers were bearing up outside Irvine Park.

Owl's clover and sand pygmy stonecrop

Owl’s clover and stonecrop . . . getting a bit dry, but still bravely blooming.

Having some shadow fun,  admiring lupine still in bloom.

Having some shadow fun, admiring lupine still in bloom.

Lupine and non-native grasses

Although the heat is sizzling the flowers, here’s one last field of lupine shining in the low light (amidst a field of non-native invasive weeds).

The most in-your-face thing in bloom this time of year does not belong here: non-native, invasive black mustard. It smears its yellow nastiness all over our hills as it crowds out the less-agressive native wildflowers.

The most in-your-face thing in bloom this time of year does not belong here: non-native, invasive black mustard. It smears its yellow nastiness all over our hills as it crowds out the less-agressive native wildflowers.

Mustard mustard everywhere, and not a drop of pink.

More yucky mustard. It lines the trails in many places, gives off a heavy musky suffocating odor, and makes me sad about what might be blooming here if the mustard hadn’t taken over.

dead western fence lizard and bare feet

Not everything was late-afternoon sunshine and flowers, though . . . this western fence lizard looked to be recently separated from his tail–and life–by something other than bare feet careening down the trail. Mountain bikes, perhaps?

I've been keeping tabs on this trap door spider home for several years; each time I re-visit after rain, I fear it's been washed away, but it's still there.

On a happier note: I’ve been keeping tabs on this trap door spider home for several years; each time I re-visit after rain, I fear it’s been washed away, but it’s still there . . . out in the nearby wilds of our Orange County foothills.

Here's a shiny critter who always cheers me up when we meet along the trail. Darkling beetles: there's that sense they have an important a destination in mind, but they're never too busy say "hello, toes" as they head for who knows where.

Here’s a shiny critter who always cheers me up when we meet along the trail. Darkling beetles: there’s that sense they have an important destination in mind, but they’re never too busy say “hello, toes” as they head for who knows where.

“The Art and Sole of Barefoot Hiking” by John M. Harder: a thoughtful introduction to this most pleasant activity

March 5, 2015
Spotted on a recent hike up the Palm Canyon trail in Anza Borrego Desert State Park: a happy barefoot hiker.

Here’s a barefoot hiker headed up the Palm Canyon trail in Anza Borrego Desert State Park last weekend. 

During a recent bout of barefoot research, I came across John M. Harder’s beautiful introduction to “The Art and Sole of Barefoot Hiking.”  I remember reading it with delight several years ago; it moved me again upon re-reading, for which reason I offer a link to it here,  as spring approaches–a blissful time to be out on the trails without shoes.

Mr. Harder’s piece  “originally appeared in the Healing Options newspaper, Bennington, Vermont, April 1997.

Copyright 1997 John M. Harder.”

Almost 20 years later . . . his words remain timely.

Thanks, Mr. Harder!

And here I am on a recent trail adventure near Irvine Park.

And here I am on a recent almost-spring trail adventure near Irvine Park . . . 

(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 . . .

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