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Southern California’s Winter-Green Hills: Beautiful or Beastly?

January 29, 2013
From yesterday's hike in Shady Canyon: the hills are green, but why?

From yesterday’s hike in Shady Canyon: sure, the hills are getting green, but why?

More rains over the weekend . . . definitely a blessing . . . but now that the coastal foothills are responding with an emerald glow (soon to be quilted with patches of gaudy yellow mustard flowers), it’s time for me wax despondent over the whole shiny mess.

While most folks see a beautiful seasonal display of color, I sigh, wondering what the hills looked like a couple hundred years ago, before all the non-native annual grasses invaded. Sure, our hills are green for a bit in winter . . . but  the parade quickly fades, and these weeds dry and die. With all the native perennial bunch grasses and rainbows of wild flowers choked out years ago, the hills turn to gray-ish brown tinder for the rest of the year–instead of a year-long blossoming of native plants, and year-long green of native  bunchgrass.

Thus this poem:
Like a golden dagger inlaid with emerald

much admired for its gaudy decoration,
so these hills are venerated for
how they light up every year with green-
shine 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:
emerald sheen of noxious annuals,
golden epidemic of mustard flower—

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

******

On a happier note, there are still a few deer that seem to have adapted to the “new” diet of imported grasses.

One of my favorite words in action here: crepuscular deer, grazing (amidst dry mustard stalks) at the close of day.

One of my favorite words in action here: crepuscular deer, grazing (amidst dry mustard stalks) at the close of day in Shady Canyon yesterday.

 

And, on an unrelated note: I discovered barefoot pony riding a couple of weeks ago, during an amazing winter break of several 80-degree days. I went for a trail ride with my sister (who bought the cute little guy for her granddaughters), and when I got home did a quick internet search of “barefoot horseback riding.” Some of the warnings/negativity seemed eerily similar to how people regard barefoot hiking: dangerous, demented behavior that will get you hurt. On the other hand, there were a few comments by folks who enjoyed riding their horses sans saddle and shoes, raising the eternal question: is contemporary conventional shoe-wisdom (wear them or suffer the broken-glass, bloody consequences!) the voice of reason, or ?

Barefoot and bareback on a warm So Cal winter day.

Barefoot and bareback on a warm So Cal winter day.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelly Anderson permalink
    January 29, 2013 6:58 am

    As I walked Serrano a couple days ago, I had the same wish: what did it look like before roads and wires and weeds? Even on the ridge, the symphony of songbirds was accompanied by the shuush of traffic and I was never out of sight of the towers that bring electricity to my home.

    But oh! the rain brought out the perfume of earth and white sage. And oh! the mud brought out deep footprints: bobcats, coyotes, deer, and raccoons had walked and run the same trail as me. So I shut my mind to manmade things and gave thanks to be walking where the wild things still are.

Trackbacks

  1. A Cranky Response to an OC Register article about “Staying Safe on the Trail,” with some Fabulous Wild Writing by Kelly Anderson to Calm Me Down + Some Photos from a Frosty Good Time in Black Star Canyon « Barefoot Wandering and Writing
  2. A Pissy Response to an OC Register article about “Staying Safe on the Trail,” with some Fabulous Wild Writing by Kelly Anderson to Calm Me Down + Some Photos from a Frosty Good Time in Black Star Canyon « Barefoot Wandering and Writing

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