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A Weekend of (Barefoot) Autumn Wandering

November 4, 2012

Two days sitting in hotel conference rooms to end the workweek–bleh–I couldn’t wait to head for the hills as soon as I escaped the vehicular wedgie that is the 405-to-the-22-freeway-eastbound-on-Friday-afternoon. Santiago Oaks Regional Park, 15 minutes from my house, dust between my toes, the cool breath of streamside trees filling my nose with the odor of green . . . ahhh.

Saturday was public access day at Limestone Canyon, so I spent the morning helping out at the check-in table for an hour, and then pedaled over to the Dripping Springs Trail spur to sit in the bird-filled oak woodland and tally the hikers and bikers and equestrians traveling past. Hikers: 11. Bikers: 4. Horses: 0. All happy to be out on a blue-sky November morning.

I sat for a while, trying to describe bird sounds with notebook jottings (The spotted towhee seems to say, “Really? Ree-LEE?” even though the bird guides transcribe it as “ZhurEEE, zhurEEE.” Now I imagine the bird as a cynic among his peers, always questioning their birdy stories. “RealLY? Are you SURE?”)

A red-shouldered hawk, unseen, filled the air with repetitions of his downward-slurring, shrill: “KEE-er! KEE-er!” . . . ten or more times in a row, pause, then another round of forceful calls. Upset about something? Sure sounded like it . . .

Then I heard the reason why–also out of sight, but super-loud and aggressive, a red-tailed hawk screamed back with its lower-pitched and raucous, “kee-eeee-arrr.”

(My faulty memory keeps me from being a better birder, but I’ve got the more common foothill birds pretty well ensconced in my aural databank by now.)

What a cool duet!

After a fabulous half hour of sitting in the dirt and writing, I figured I better move around a bit, so I moseyed on over to where the dirt road passes under the oaks, and a pile of oak leaves had collected. “Hmmm,” I thought. “That’s something to work on, barefoot-wise: hiking through oak leaves. Let’s try it.”

Ouch. Eech. Ooch. The crackly leaves had needle edges that seemed especially attracted to the soft arch-skin of my insteps , as well as the vulnerable places where my toes meet my soles. I would walk a few steps, stop, pick the clingy leaves off , then repeat. After a few tries, I changed technique: scrunching up my toes so there was no place for the leaves to stick. And I stopped placing my heels on the ground.

So . . . if you walk on your toes, curling those tootsies down as tightly as you can, it is possible to walk through the crunchiest and poke-iest oak leaves imaginable. Some day that might come in handy. For now . . . well . . . only half the trail had leaves on it. It seemed easier to hike on the leafless side. And that’s what barefooting is all about for me: easy, fun, smiling along the trail.

Here’s the photo-documentation of the weekend’s good trail times:

This afternoon: 88 degrees at 4 pm. Balmy November, perfect for barefoot hiking and trail running . . . I’m working my way back to running again, after two months off to recover from something shin-splinty.

I saw seven deer tonight; it’s dry and it’s hunting season: two good reasons for them to come out of the hills in the evening.

A golden evening in the Lomas de Santiago today.

There’s a trap door spider home along the path between Santiago Oaks and Irvine Regional Parks. I like to check in every so often and see how it’s doing.

The trap door blends in so well, that sometimes when I hike by I can’t find it. Today . . . I was able to.

Prickly pear, waiting for rain.

Some of the prickly pear are really ready for rain. . . I am too.

Barbed wire and buckwheat near Limestone Canyon.

Oak leaves on the trail. Ouch potential . . . unless . . . you do the “oak-walk.”

Hanging out near the Dripping Springs trail: peace and quiet and lots of bird calls.

Practicing walking barefoot on oak leaves. It’s all about the technique . . .

In a nearby oak, an empty hummingbird nest, soft and sycamore-furry inside, decorated (camouflaged?) with lichen on the outside.

In another nearby oak: an oak gall, party house for all kinds of wasps and such who lay their eggs inside.

Watch out deer (and all the rest of us hill-wandering critters): it’s hunting season in the Santa Ana Mountains.

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