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The Season of Autumn, or, How To Fall Happily Into Retirement (Barefoot or Not)

September 22, 2018



behrs metalmark on buckwheat

It’s fall!

Such a lovely time of year here is Southern California: the riotous spring colors have faded, but there’s still plenty of life if you know where to look. 

(Caution: Metaphor alert. My life in retirement = autumn season. Cue Captain Obvious.)

captain obvious meme

I recently had a fun hike with another retired teacher, poet-naturalist-land-steward-unaware-plogger extraordinaire, Chuck. We took a leisurely stroll through the James Dilley Preserve (part of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park), where for many years he has been working hard at invasive weed removal and citizen science such as weekly butterfly counts. And he writes about it, too: lovely descriptive poems of our local wildlands that often digress into compelling memories. (Here’s one of his latest, published in the newsletter of our Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society–see page three.)

20.0Chuck under oak.jpg

Chuck, writing.

Chuck’s a decade or so ahead of me on the retirement curve, and a great mentor for this stage of life–he is an excellent example of how important (and fulfilling) it can be to pursue a passion (the flora and fauna of our local wildlands) by continually learning about stuff both via book-knowledge and field work. His schedule of frequent weed removal and plant propagation gives him many opportunities to keep active as well as pass on his knowledge to the next generation . . . all of which he told me he is grateful for (a key attitude to life whether retired or not) as we walked and talked on our 1.9-mile, three-hour (so much to notice! why hurry?) hike along the Mariposa and Canyon Trails.

local pollinators on twiggy wreath

Some fabulous native insects on Stephanomeria (twiggy wreath)

Even though most chaparral and coastal sage scrub plants are dormant this time of year (after all, it hasn’t rained for six months), Chuck was able to point out pretty much each plant that did sport flowers, so matter how tiny or uncolorful those blossoms were, such as the ones this dragonfly is enjoying in the photo below.

dragonfly in september

These drab flowers are so unremarkable I’ve already forgotten their name.

He was also darned good at predicting which pollinators would be active on each different shrub, perennial, or annual bloomer.

How was he able to do this? By following his own advice: in Chuck’s ideal world, each person would choose a local “nature place”–and proximity is key, so it’s easy to visit frequently–and make it their own by learning about what grows/lives there and also (another key idea) spending time volunteering there to help preserve it.

While not everyone can get certified as a volunteer habitat restorationist as Chuck has, he also proved how easy it is to “love” a place simply by bringing a bag along on hikes and just. Picking. Up. Trash.

When I told Chuck this was actually a “Swedish fitness craze” called plogging, he was his usual delighted self at the opportunity to learn a new word–even if it was for something he was already doing.

I guess I’ve also been plogging unawares for years . . .

And, for years, I’ve also been taking photos of my favorite wild places (see pretty much every one of my last 284 blog posts) to create memorable images of not only the trail trash, but the beauty of the plants/rocks/critters I come across.

To do that I carry a pocket-sized camera, which has major limitations when it comes to zooming and close-ups and pretty much everything. But it’s pocket sized. And NOT a smart phone. (Did I mention I live smart-phone-free existence? Why, that’s almost as crazy as hiking and running barefoot! Where’s Captain Obvious when you need him for a good quote?!)

Anyway, here’s some stuff that caught my attention this past week:


datura with lots of purple

More-purple-than-usual datura! (Georgia O’Keefe-able, yes?)

layers of cobble

Geology! Where would we be without rocks and dirt? (Floating around in the ocean?)

western fence lizard on rock

A quick critter who doesn’t pose long (hello/goodbye Western fence lizard)

prickly pear yellow blossom

Prickly pear bloom

tunas on prickly pear

Prickly pear fruit (tunas)


skipper on goldenbush

Skipper on goldenbush

robber fly on tarweed

Robber fly on tarweed

coastal cholla cactus shadow on bare feet

Cholla shadow on toes

lichen on branch

Delightful lichen on bark

trap door spider door

Trapdoor spider home (Do Not Disturb) on vertical dried mud

barefootprint design

Fluffy dust on trail (but still longing for mud)

Let it rain!

moonrise ove santa ana mountains

Full moon on the way

Whether I’m hiking around with friends like Chuck, or running up and down the ridges solo, I am grateful for our local wildlands, people like Chuck who take care of them, and these retirement years to spend more time appreciating all the drab and vivid things of life.

Share the fun–fall in love with a local place, wherever you are.


Captain Obvious sez, “She’s literally falling down here.”

Happy (local!) trails!



Another Video Celebrating Barefoot Running (and balancing/not-balancing) Fun

September 15, 2018

A couple of days ago, it was my–I mean OUR–43rd wedding anniversary, so instead of going out for any kind of dinner, fancy or un-fancy, neither of which would fall within our retirement budget, the other half of my “our” obliged me with a follow-the-action photo shoot, something this me cannot accomplish on my own, if you follow . . .

Speaking of following–he rode his bike and/or trotted along shooting short clips with not just one but both of our insufficient cameras, so there would be twice the unsatisfactory footage, but oh well . . . I just edited most of it into B&W in hopes that would add some “barefoot-itude” to the resulting one-minute condensation. (Don’t blink or you’ll miss the surprise at the end. Spoiler alert: there is a surprise, and it tasted HORRIBLE and I was sure it was full of horse piss/manure/e coli and I thought I was going to puke for the next couple of hours but I didn’t but I’m still on the lookout for symptoms of giardia.)

Happy anniversary to us . . . still crazy after all these (43!) years 🙂

Happy watery trails!

My New Video: Go Barefoot and Have Fun!

August 31, 2018

Last April, while my daughter and grandsons were visiting for a few days, I had the idea for my talented photographer-daughter to shoot some video footage of my grandson Blake and me having all kinds of barefoot fun in our back yard (with bonus photo-bombing opportunities by various California wildflowers, all now gone to seed and waiting for winter rains to call back their seasonal show). Yesterday, with other, “more important,” things to do, it suddenly became extremely urgent to shape the April clips into a video–yep, that’s how my devious procrastinating mind works . . .

I have a blast making videos, but I’m still on a (steep) learning curve in my efforts to create short pieces that random YouTube strangers will want to watch all the way to the end (my YouTube analytics page shows a dismal drop-off rate of eyeball time, which I am working to address).

Here’s the title screen (my grandsons–now 9 and almost-12, still call me YaYa for reasons lost in the mists of time/toddler pronunciation abilities).

Screen Shot 2018-08-31 at 10.16.30 AM

And here’s a link to the video:

As part of my retirement plan to not only take over the world, but to get paid for doing stuff I enjoy, some day I hope to monetize my YouTube channel–but it will take 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 “watch hours” to become eligible, so feel free to watch and subscribe 🙂

Happy BAREFOOT FUN Trails!

Falling into a new season (with an old blog post on my barefoot beginnings)

August 29, 2018
fall color on the North Kaibab Trail

North Kaibab  Trail in the fall

Fall is in the air . . . back-to-school time, new beginnings . . . and I continue to remain grateful for NOT having to go back to school as my retirement wanders into year two. But I’m still feeling nostalgic–especially as six of my seven grandkids* have gone back to school recently. The following post is a product of that nostalgia; it was published almost five years ago on the Barefoot Beginner blog.

My First Barefoot Steps
By Thea Gavin, 54
Orange, CA
(written for Barefoot Beginner and first published 12/10/2013)

My first barefoot steps . . .
. . . probably didn’t happen when I was learning to walk. Back in the late 50s, station-wagon-driving parents were big on Buster Brown shoes with Eisenhower-stiff soles to “protect” babies’ feet. Yikes. (What’s even worse: in the 70s, I put my kids in shoes right away, too . . . which is one more parenting mis-step that I’m trying to atone for by encouraging my grandkids to lose their shoes when Grammy G comes for a visit.)

My first barefoot steps . . .
. . . in “nature” might have been at the beach, where even proper parents couldn’t force shoes onto all us kids hyped up by listening to Boss Radio 93 KHJ and then running wild in the waves.

My first barefoot running steps . . .
. . . were definitely at the beach – Corona del Mar State Beach. I have vivid memories (was I ten or twelve?) of running full-tilt over the jetty of giant boulders that poked out hundreds of yards into the very heart of the Pacific Ocean (at least it seemed that way to my younger self). My game was to hurtle myself from rock to rock and just let me feet find their way . . . it worked then, and it still works now when I barefoot trail run; I just “hurtle” a bit slower these days.

My first (intentional) barefoot hiking steps . . .
. . . happened in January of 2010; I was at a bird-watching event and noticed two young men in their early 20s wearing homemade wool pants and no shoes. I elbowed my big-booted friend sitting at the campfire next to me and we chuckled at those crazy kids. It was winter; why were they barefoot?

Why were they barefoot? I couldn’t stop wondering, and when I got home, thus began my descent into the convoluted internet labyrinth of all-things-barefoot.

The next day I went for yet another rehab hike at my “usual” 1.8 mile dirt loop; I was six years into my quest for recovery from a variety of running injuries fueled by my desire to run 50 miles the year I turned 50. I was 50-and-a-half. And not running at all, per doctor’s orders.

I carried a pair of old sandals in my little day-pack, just in case. There was no just in case. The cracked clay—and its scattering of rain-released grit—was a revelation. My feet hummed and vibrated for hours afterward.

My first barefoot running steps . . .
were interspersed with walking on this same trail. A lollipop loop, the “handle” from the parking lot was decomposed granite, a sole-shocking challenge that has morphed from “ouch!” to “meh” over the years.

My first barefoot running steps . . .
did the same thing for me that they seem to do for almost everyone: they made me feel like a kid again. Hills pulled me to their summits; rocks beckoned me to jump off them; mud invited me to squish around; soft poof-dust sang like Springsteen: “Baby, you were born to run.”

And the odd, after-run “buzz” of my soles was the strangest part of the initiation. That has diminished, but I continue to suffer, with fellow members of the church-of-the-enlightened-barefooters, the odd looks and hilariously inane comments of ignorant shoddies, including the classic, “Barefoot, huh?”

My first barefoot running steps . . .
turned me into an exuberant evangelist who wanted to share the barefoot love with everyone I met on the trail (and I only do trails; cement sidewalks do not interest me). I am now older, wiser, and silent unless asked specific questions by people who seem sincerely interested in opening their minds to new ideas.

My first barefoot running steps . . .
were almost four years ago. I continue to work through gait/mechanics-induced pains that pop up when I increase the intensity and/or duration of my runs. I continue to learn about my amazing body, including what to fuel it with, and I look forward to running barefoot until I am chased down and eaten by a mountain lion who thought I was a deer, moving so gracefully through Orange County’s wild hills at twilight.

* * * * * *


muddy feet.jpg

*Did somebody mention grandkids? Here’s how you turn them into shoe-resisters . . . this one is only three years old and has been taking her “first barefoot steps” all her little life. She already knows that after a tough day at pre-school there’s nothin’ like a little mud-squishing. #crazygrandma


Introducing: another (crazy?) barefoot Grand Canyon hiker/runner

August 23, 2018



Shadowy me on the South Kaibab Trail, Oct. 2017.

I am thrilled and honored that author/adventurer Kenneth Posner discovered my barefoot Grand Canyon antics (as chronicled regularly on this blog), and that my barefoot wandering and writing helped him in some small way with his own first excursion at Grand Canyon earlier this month.

Thanks for the shout-out(s) in your fine blog report, Ken.

(And for those who would like to learn about how (actually, quite non-crazy) Ken got started barefoot hiking/trail running: here’s another one of his excellent blog posts titled “1,000 Miles Barefoot.”)

Happy (Barefoot, 1000-mile, Crazy-Fun) Trails!


What Works Barefoot (and what doesn’t)

August 18, 2018

Another summer road trip of learning the intricacies of being shoe-less vs. shod . . .


The scene above occured at the Fremont Indian Museum along I-70 in Utah. I was not in the mood to cause a fuss, so: sandals– my very old, falling-apart, Merrell Pipidae Wrap models, which if they ever brought them back I would get ten pairs because of how comfortable and capable they are, not just for visiting museums, but for many miles of backcountry backpacking over the years (think: Boucher Trail at Grand Canyon).


Not too far from the museum: the Castle Rock campground . . . a lovely place to spend the night after a looong day of driving north. My freedom-loving toes enjoyed imitating the turrets of the castle-y rocks.  A barefoot win.


Final destination: Ouray, CO, where one of the highlights of my week was a chance to barefoot hike in the San Juan Mountains . . .


. . . where the rocks are no problem, until they are:


The above shot was taken through the amazingly clear waters of an alpine lake (elevation 12,693):


For the second half of the 7-mile round trip, I opted to wear my Sockwas.  We were trying to beat the looming afternoon thunderstorm, and the 2,347 elevation loss felt like too much to do rapidly, shoelessly.


A much easier saunter: the Ouray Perimeter Trail, which I did with my (waaay older! It’s finally OK to be the youngest of seven siblings ’cause they’re all on Social Security and I’m not!) sister, who was house/cat sitting for friends.


The first couple miles of trail was barefoot friendly. Until it wasn’t.


Near the high point of the trail (elevation ~8,500′) were shapely platforms of rock–huge views and perfect for a picnic IF you’re watching the ground carefully for a low-growing/cryptic cactus.

So: once one steps in cactus, one learns?


One would hope . . .


I decided to use my magic umbrella to fly out of there (not only cactus lurked, but it was mid-day and the ground was heating up).

Time for sandals . . .

. . . which carried me quite legally to a refreshing glass of my favorite liquid at the Ouray Brewery (H2O); my sis bravely bought a beer so we could hang out on the third floor patio for a while to watch the clouds above and crowds below pass by.


Sure, Ouray’s a mountainy-tourist town, full of Jeeps and people in hiking boots. But they all have to leave their engines and shoes behind if they want to enjoy this place’s famous soothing water.


From up on the Perimeter Trail we could see the blue gems set in concrete on the outside of town: three hot mineral pools plus separate swimming lanes and obstacle course.


Did someone say OBSTACLE COURSE?! No shoes needed here for two crazy grandma-sisters-american-ninja-water-warriors:

obstacle course moment

BONUS: a barefoot climbing wall above the pool (which kinda hurt my previously bloodied toe from the lake hike earlier in the week).


DO I look like I’m a high-climbing rock star? ‘Cause I’m only a few inches above the pool, into which I fell quicker than you can say “tricky photo-editing.”


Miners and cowboys. Boots required.



That’s Josh, our ride-guide on one last Ouray adventure: a four-hour jaunt up to Baldy Peak (~10,500′) on horseback. Lucky for me the local (Ridgway) thrift store had something that qualified as “close-toed shoes” so I would be eligible to ride my palomino Dish through aspen and fir forests for a round-trip of twelve steep/rocky/view-filled miles.

Four hours is a looong time to keep my frisky feet still, so every now and then I would remove them from the stirrups and wiggle my ankles and toes, to which Dish responded with much ear-flattening and unease.

“Sorry, Dish,” I’d whisper, stick my feet back in the stirrups, and Dish would be back to normal horse-ear behavior.

We only had one “incident” that made me thankful for the many (happy happy) hours I’d spent horseback in my early teens: Dish was chomping away (not again! Stop it Dish! Get your head up!) on trailside vegetation, when some tiny critter must have flown up her nose. She gave a panicked buck and began snorting and stomping in place on the narrow trail. As a kid, I always loved a good bucking session, and my muscle memory kicked right in, together with my much-calmer old person demeanor, so I was able to sooth Dish with my body language and words until she was able to snort her angst away. Yee haw!


Big sis and I are very different, but also have lots in common, including our love for a drive in the country, so one afternoon we tooled along a local dirt road, admiring Ouray architecture and trying to imagine ourselves living in this beautiful place (we couldn’t, but we tried).

Coming around a bend, we were both surprised and delighted by the sight of this basketball hoop stuck to local redrock . . . for sure a place where the locals would have home-court advantage. Probably in shoes.


Happy Ouray (or elsewhere) Trails: “To everything there is a season: a time for bare feet, and a time for shoes.” (#AdaptedScripture)

Who Cares If It’s Hot? (Or: How I Keep Running During Summer)

August 11, 2018

barefoot summer running.JPG

It’s been a warm coupla months . . . but if you followed the advice of a recent article published in my local newspaper, the Orange County Register, you might never even venture out your door: “Stay in air-conditioned buildings” is one of the writer’s genius bits of wisdom. But what if you don’t have an air-conditioned building (my house) or an air-conditioned running route (my local trails)?

(In defense of the writer, he does offer some helpful tips, but it was hard for me to pay attention after his “stay inside” quote.)

As eight years of  posts on this “Barefoot Wandering and Writing” blog make obsessively clear, I LOVE to run and/or hike barefoot, so I make time-of-day adaptations throughout the year, waiting till the ground warms up on winter afternoons, heading out early in the day in the summer.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I wasn’t able to hit the trails until 6:30 pm, at which time it was still a smokin’ 95 degrees (F) at the trailhead . . . but don’t worry, it cooled off to a lovely 90 (F) by the time I was done at 7:30. (Cue maniacal laughter.)

So that was one adaptation to the heat: running 60 instead of my usual 90 minutes. And keeping the pace mostly un-sprinty.  Another amazingly effective way I was able to feel fahrenheit-fabulous while running? My awkward grandma version of a wet T-shirt (non)contest: see advice #2 & 3, below.

(Also note: to keep my shirt thoroughly sopping, I took advantage of one of the horse watering troughs maintained by OC Parks along the trails of Santiago Oaks Regional Park; it only looked 8 *a little* green, so I stripped off my shirt and hat, dipped both in the slimy water, slid them over/on my head, and galloped on. With nary a selfie to show for it.)

Here’s the origin story of the “safe hiking in the heat” list below: Earlier this summer, I concocted it as a FaceBook post for the wonderful Grand Canyon Hikers FB group, a group that DOESN’T STAY INDOORS JUST BECAUSE IT’S SUMMER. (But also a group that needs to be careful, since folks die every summer at Grand Canyon due to heat-related issues.)

So: here it is, below, still timely, since summer 2018 doesn’t seem to want to end any time soon. (And So Cal’s warmest weather often arrives in September, just in time for back-to-school.) (Did I mention my car registered the outside air at 117 (F) earlier this summer as I was driving around my non-desert town?! That’s a yikes, for sure . . . )

Anyway, adapt the info below to your own situation, using a big dose of advice #5 — but please don’t be scared away from enjoying your local trails by well-meaning (but maybe non-running/non-hiking?) reporters.


How can you hike safely in Grand Canyon during the summer? Here’s my contribution to this “hot” topic (pun intended–sorry!), based on ranger talks I’ve attended as well as my own experience with summer hiking at the Canyon–which includes a rim-to-rim during a heat alert two years ago. (Spoiler alert: I began in late afternoon and hiked through the night:…/grand-canyon-rim-to-rim-…/)

1) “If you’re hot, you’re stupid.” Strong words meant to save your life–and you can easily follow this ranger advice by NOT hiking in the heat of the day. (For my annual June backpack from the North Rim to Cottonwood Camp, I leave the North Rim about 3:30 pm, which puts me in shade by the time I get to the notorious switchbacks below the Supai Tunnel . . . and gets me into Cottonwood with just enough light to take a refreshing dip in Bright Angel Creek and then set up my minimalist, tent-less camp.)

2) “Water to drink; water to wear.” Plan ahead; you’ve read the weather reports, you know it’s gonna be so hot the condors will be laying hard-boiled eggs, so bring enough water to keep your shirt/head wet. I bring an extra shirt (see #3 for a vital fabric pointer) in a plastic zipper bag, add water, and trade shirts when the one I’m wearing dries . . . which can happen in a matter of minutes. Rinse and repeat.

3) “Cotton COOLS” (rather than “cotton kills”). In desert heat I wear flimsy-thin, flowery, 100% cotton, long-sleeve blouses–cheap treasures from local thrift stores. These breath better than any synthetic, and feel AMAZING when I pull them out of the plastic bag and stick my arms in the wet sleeves. Plus did I mention they are flowery?

4) Swallow your pride and open your umbrella: I have a lightweight, silver-reflective umbrella that provides constant shade while hiking. Nerdy-looking? Sure. Effective at keeping me cool? You betcha! (Caution: umbrellas doesn’t work too well if it’s windy or if the trail is narrow and/or next to a cliff wall.)

umbrella hiking at Grand Canyon.jpg

5) Gertrude Stein gets the last words: “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” Use your common sense, and enjoy your time in Grand Canyon!

bare toes and grand canyon.JPG

Sunset/North Rim/June 2018

Happy (HOT) Summer Trails . . . “thinking outside the shoe!”