Thursday, April 22, 2010

Back to Basics on the Bobcat

Mother Nature rules.
The Earth is her kingdom.
And we are merely in the way.

Much of our time here is spent as lucky bystanders, as happy witness - if we pay attention - to the subtle, to the grand, and to the often mind-boggling beauty on our tiny blue planet. The incredible diversity of flora and fauna, the intricate tapestry of the landscape, the mysteries in the sky above and in the deep below, the miracle of life itself: you couldn't make some of this stuff up if you tired. All is bewitching. Staggeringly so, at times.

In the midst of our 24-hour days and our 365 days a year, however, simply being human sometimes means quietly co-existing until the next show of force, the next ultimatum, the next Who's on First, the next declaration of Marshall Law, the next "I'm sorry, what did you say?" Waiting for it...and dodging it, if possible.

Tornado - Earthquake - Tsunami 
Hurricane - Wildfire - Monsoon
Avalanche - Heat Wave - Blizzard
Cyclone - Hail Storm - Drought

Yes, Planet Earth is a lovely place to live, but at its core lurks a violent doppelgänger soul. And when Mamacita decides to put her foot down our man-made, human-centric concerns can suddenly fade to almost trivial: the inventions and technologies, our worries and wants and supposed needs, the miracle of flight and with it our departures and arrivals, the 21st Century mantra "Moving at the Speed of Business".

How's this for speed?
Shut it down!
And so she did.

While one part of the planet succumbed to the angry whims of an unpronounceable Icelandic Volcano, another basked in one of the loveliest days of the year. We - and by "we" I mean "I" - were waiting for it, especially after the preceding two weekends of rain. Sure, there have been some fine days in the Bay Area this spring, but Sunday April 18, 2010 was absolutely gorgeous. The weather report had predicted fair skies, just as it warned another series of storms would follow; so in a burst of energy and organization I completed Farallon's monthly wine inventory on Friday and Saturday instead of the usually scheduled Sunday. I counted the California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, the New Zealand sauvignon blanc and Australian shiraz, the French, Italian, German, Spanish and Austrian bottles so the whole day could be mine.

Ours, really, as I had hiking buddies for the trek, and a strenuous, sweaty one it was. A foursome, plus one dog (a doggone tired dog, after a while): we started at Rodeo Beach, the kick-off point for The Loop, walked up Coast Trail to Wolf Ridge, then made our way behind the the top of the hill to the Miwok Trail, where normally we would hang a right and descend to the lagoon and beach. But normal wasn't gonna cut it for me, so instead we turned left and climbed some more: up, up, up the Miwok to the junction with the Bobcat Trail. Total elevation gain from sea level was 1020 feet, and it was worth every step. I had never hiked the extended route before and was smitten, in-between gasping for breath, with the views to Tennessee Valley, Tiburon, Mill Valley, Mount Tamalpais and the North Bay. As always, the juxtaposition of urban space so close to such wide (and wild) open space left me pleased to find myself exactly here/there.

I am happy to report (and even happier to witness) that the annual parade of wildflowers is hitting its stride in full force; blooms are everywhere you look. They burst in single, isolated explosions or pepper entire hillsides. We must have walked by two dozen different species on our hike, at least one of which I've never before seen.

The outing was lovely, a damn fine workout, and for me well-needed. The temperature in San Francisco hit 70 degrees, which means the protected valleys of Marin were probably warmer still.

It was perfect, in fact; and I encourage you to get out there and walk your own neck of the woods.  Just open the door and step outside. Do it now, while the land glistens with the memory of spring rain, while wildflowers poke their technicolor heads skyward, and trees push new green growth from their awakening silhouettes. You'll be rewarded with a glimpse into the benevolent side of Earth's two-faced, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde mistress: Mother Nature. The side that'll make you almost forget her darker persona.

Until she decides otherwise, that is.

*  *  *  *  *

The following photos were taken on Sunday April 18, 2010 in the Marin Headlands. More specifically, they were shot on the Coast, Wolf Ridge, Miwok and Bobcat Trails during a 7-mile/3.5-hour loop hike from Rodeo Beach. Unfortunately my camera didn't - or couldn't - capture them all, but hopefully the pictures translate.

The start of the hike and the lay of the land above Rodeo Beach and Fort Cronkhite, which, I hope you can see, is speckled with wildflowers.

Sun Cup (Camissonia ovata) and Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) at the start of the climb.

I'm not sure what this is, but the tiny orange flower is everywhere this year: the most prolific bloom I've seen.

More Blue-eyed Grass, which is going bonkers right now.

Goldfield (Lasthenia californica).  Low to the ground mats and oh so sunny.

The view from Wolf Ridge Trail looking north to Tennessee Valley and Mount Tamalpais, with Goldfield, Bush Lupine, California Poppy and Checkerbloom.

Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) and one of the many subspecies of Wild Lilac (Ceanothus).

I think this is Forget-me-not (Boraginaceae myosotis), a delightful but introduced species.

More sunny Sun Cup.

No idea, but this flower is found in 3 or 4 different color schemes.

Huffing and puffing to the top of the Miwok Trail under very blue skies.

Mule-ears (Wyethia angustifolia) and Blue-eyed Grass.

Redwood Violet (Viola sempervirens), I think. We came upon these at the top of the Miwok Trail: a new discovery as I've never seem them before.

Checker-bloom; Wild Hollyhock (Sidalcea malvaeflora).

Getting sick of typing no idea, but I have no idea.

California Poppy, Goldfield, Blue-eyed Grass and some Buttercup, all in one.

Looking back up the Bobcat Trail, with a big eucalyptus tree and white Cow Parsnip.

A close up view and one far off. In the Headlands entire hillsides look like the picture on top, with myriad wildflowers tucked into the grass. The lower photo is from the top of the Miwok Trail, with a hiking buddy for the day contemplating the North Bay and the Tiburon Peninsula.

The lovely and vibrant Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus). Out in force right now, completely lining some of the trails.

A view of the Miwok Trail as it nears Rodeo Lagoon. Take this photo, multiply it by 7 up-and-down miles, add in another 20 or so types of flowers, and you've pretty much got the gist of the hike, and what the Headlands look like right now.

*  *  *  *  *

To the people of Europe who are dealing with the fallout from a volcano almost 1200 miles away, and to the travelers worldwide who, due to said volcano, have become stranded for over five days now, well...I wish you a speedy return to clear skies and home, wherever that may be. In lieu of a halt to the eruption - which could happen, but probably won't any time soon - I hope for a much needed change in the winds.

To the people of Iceland, may your fiery, frozen world settle down just a bit. I know that flash floods and huge slabs of ice falling from the sky, not to mention the toxicity of volcanic ash, all pose a serious threats to livestock, to agriculture, and to people. Lord knows you could use a break in the action. We all could: Haiti, China, Indonesia and Mexico, to name but a recent, alarming few.

Oh, and Iceland? When you get that break, when you have the time, please tell us all how to pronounce the name of that damn volcano!

Peter J. Palmer

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