Tag Archives: nature writing

Before the Wind Comes Up

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Spring comes early to the North Coast, and with it comes the wind. There are very few days in the Spring when the air is still, and many more when the house is buffeted all day by wave after wave of cold, thundering marine air.

Some nights the wind picks up around 4 am, loud enough to wake me up. I can feel it testing the give of the glass panes on my window, like a crazed tympanist tuning a drum. Even though I am well-protected and warm, I reach for a pillow to protect my head from the blasts.

This is a wind that works on all levels—the exterior and the deeply interior. Some days I have only to look at the wind blowing outside to feel it at work in my own mind, tearing loose what is hastily nailed down and forcing the trees to anchor their roots even deeper.

This morning I looked out through windows glazed with a season’s worth of salt spray and saw the treetops motionless against the sky. Throwing on a light sweater, I took the dog outside for an early walk in the sweet light of May Day. It was a morning when everything seems possible.

Even when still, the wind is a palpable presence here. It danced in a slow-moving swirl around me, full of energy but relaxed, letting the dew hang on the tips of the tall grass until it ended up on Vince’s fur, or slowly steamed away in the sun.

On other walks I have felt halfway around the folly of my clothes choice. I prefer to think of dressing as giving instructions to the elements on how to behave, the result being that I am frequently mad at myself for not dressing warmer. But today, even with just a t-shirt and thin sweater on, I was never cold.

That in itself seemed like a hopeful sign that something new was possible, was in fact presenting itself right there in that moment. And it felt like if I just walked one more circuit in that perfect balance of cold and warm, I would fall into synch with it too. The door that had formed from Winter’s blasts and then blew itself open in the Spring would be there, and I would have the eyes to see it and step through.

Usually my reverie gets punctured in some way before I return to my house and get to work. But today nothing has interrupted the flow of that golden energy. In fact, as the day matures toward afternoon the treetops still hover in disbelief, waving quietly to themselves and letting the sun penetrate their innermost branches.

In this morning of grace I felt inspired to write. Miraculously, the day has cooperated, and this blog of my heart that I have left unattended for too long finally has a new entry. I feel whole again.

It is still a time of stripping away in this country. Too many people are struggling too hard, far too much of the time. But something new and wonderful is most surely rising up, with all the force of Spring and a gale wind behind it. If you step outside, maybe you can feel it too.

Chasing Herons

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We had a couple great blustery rainstorms this week, breaking the long sunny spell of late November. I love watching storms come in here on the coast. Each one is different, but there comes a time in the hours preceding the first downfall when I instinctively head outside to make sure everything is covered that needs protection.

The wind comes in so strongly here sometimes that any gate left swinging is in danger of being ripped off its hinges. Tarps covering stacked firewood have to be secured with something heavier than a log, even if the stack is in a secluded corner. Wheelbarrows can stay outside, but not much else.

Yesterday’s storm damage included a beautiful young hawk who showed up stiff as a board on my front porch. Without examining its body too much, I assumed that it broke its neck flying into my house. Once again I was faced with the choice of what to do with the body. Without more shamanic training of that sort I am reluctant to take feathers from the bird, even if I had a use for them (which I don’t). Chucking it in the bushes seems like a coward’s way out, but could be justified in a circle-of-life kind of way. If I knew anyone who wanted a beautiful specimen to stuff and use for educational purposes—or any purpose really—I’d happily give it away. But meanwhile it sits sentinel on my porch, above the level of my dog Vince’s inquiring nose, waiting for me to make up my mind.

Vince loves the aftermath of storms the best. He knows that he’ll finally get a good long walk in, and if he’s lucky part of that will be off-leash. The morning after a storm the road where we walk is covered with earthworms which have crawled out of the meadow to escape the saturated soil. Anyone whose beliefs instruct them to save life at all cost would be in despair looking out over this roadway. There is no way that one person could save all those worms from their fate.

Fate comes first in the form of magnificent great blue herons that amble along the road after a storm. I don’t know how they choose which worms to eat and which to pass over, but they certainly seem to be in no hurry to find the choicest ones. They stand motionless in the roadway for a good long part of the time, and as Vince and I start our walk I first do a careful scan to see how many of them there are.

While they remain still, Vince doesn’t seem to notice them at all. But as soon as one of them dips down to pick up another worm, or takes a step away from us as we approach, the chase is on. Vince takes any sign of movement as a starting gun and takes off after the heron. He is quite breathtaking in motion, bounding low over brush and hollows, his body gliding smoothly over the ground, eyes intent on his goal, legs pumping in a long, vigorous stride.

The heron reacts in just the opposite way. It casually unfolds its wings, extending them tip to tip as it gives a little push with its spindly legs. Its wings catch the air and for a few strokes it sails low over the ground. Then just as Vince gets near it rises to four feet, five, maybe twelve feet high in its slow survey of the ground below.

Though it seems to be using only a fraction of the energy Vince is, the heron quickly outpaces my dog. But that doesn’t stop Vince, who at this point is almost possessed with the desire to catch the heron. He will continue running until it disappears from sight, and my only hope is that the heron disappears before Vince jumps the fence into the cow pasture, where he can run through the muck for hours while I call him in vain.

The window for optimal heron dining is fairly small, fortunately for me and my muddy dog. The second and ultimate face of Fate for the stranded earthworms is the sun, which doesn’t need to be all that bright or strong to dry out those worms and leave them darkly crisped and curled on the road by late afternoon.

At that point they are not delectable eating for any animal that I am aware of. They are merely sad commentary on the infinite brutality of Nature, and how inseparable her twins beauty and destruction.

Stillness

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This morning I woke at 5 am and could not get back to sleep. I lay in bed for an hour verifying the fact, then rose and walked quietly through my dark house. I was drawn to the windows facing west, which were filled with moonlight. Looking out I noticed with surprise that the sky was perfectly clear; gone was the overcast of previous mornings.

I stepped outside onto my front porch to take a closer look. In my thin robe, I was prepared to brace against the chill air that comes with late Fall mornings. But there was no shock to my system; the air was almost warm, and completely still.

The waning moon hung over the bay in strange detail, revealing a face that somehow I didn’t think I’d ever seen. Orion was taking aim directly at the moon, so it could have been donning a disguise until it had a chance to slink out of range.

All around me, nothing moved. I heard no sound other than the foghorn and the dull roar of the surf a mile away. No birds calling out into the pre-dawn air, not even a sea lion grunting off in the distance as it got more comfortable on its rocky bed.

The town spread out before me in the darkness which is not shadow but emptiness. It was so still I could feel the drops of dew forming slowly on my face and hands, each molecule quivering as it joined the others in the long magnetic process of like seeking like.

Across the bay, a pair of headlights appeared just as I heard the swoosh of a car engine somewhere nearby. The sound was so close I had a hard time believing it came from the other side of the water, but as I watched the headlights wind slowly around the horseshoe of the bay, each curve they described was matched by a simultaneous change in the engine noise.

After a few moments the headlights disappeared from view but I continued to track through sound the progress of the only other people awake and outside besides me. When they reached the highway and sped out of town I was left alone again on my porch, in the gathering dew, witness to the incredible stillness of this pre-dawn hour.

My tolerance for stillness and silence has greatly increased over the years, but I am still a lightweight. With nothing dramatic to catch my attention I soon drifted back indoors, put on the kettle and turned on the kitchen light.

An hour later I went back outside. There was light in the east, a fishing boat on the water and woodsmoke in the air. My little neighborhood slowly roused from sleep as the moon slipped away and the stars disappeared. It will be another day of activity, during which I will ponder how there can be more weight in a moment of stillness than in several hours of effort.

Wild Roses Have the Sweetest Hips

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Another early morning walk, this time along a trail in theThe Laguna, Autumn Morning Laguna de Santa Rosa. The trail meanders through the remnants of one of California’s major freshwater wetlands, with wide paths strewn with fallen grasses and dust. In the morning it is all tamped down with a light coating of dew, so the dust stays low and the air fresh.

One long stretch follows a series of ponds and waterways, the edge of the water choked with willow and briar, poison oak and Himalayan blackberry. The berries have been ripening steadily for the last few weeks, and these bushes so close to the trail have all been picked clean by a constant stream of visitors. I love a luscious, ripe blackberry as much as anybody, but I don’t even try to find one in this stand.

My eye is drawn instead to the opposite side of the trail, where out of the jumbled grasses rises a tangle of wild rose canes. The blooms are long gone, pink as I recall, small and lightly fragrant. Even the leaves are turning and falling, and what remains are thin clusters of tiny red rose hips scattered among the briars.

Not a one has been picked. Not the larger ones, which are scarlet on top Wild rose hipsbut pale orange underneath, needing a few more days to sun-ripen; not even the smaller ones that are so red their color does not yet have a name. Long past ruby and deeper than scarlet all the way around, these broadcast their ripeness with an almost velvet glow.

This is a find that makes me stop and linger, as there is no need to hurry about a treasure that no one else sees. I know just what this rose hip will taste like, and I take my time finding the one that emits the darkest light, that hangs the lowest, that is so ripe it has intoxicated itself in the making.

There is only one way to eat a wild rose hip: slowly, with all senses engaged. First you must pick it carefully, so the soft skin does not split from the pressure of your fingers. Then raise it to your mouth and gently guide it so that it is cushioned by lips and tongue, resting gingerly between upper and lower teeth. Breathe in, and let the aroma of the unbroken rose hip travel down your throat.

Then slowly let your teeth sink into its flesh, letting loose all the coarse, furry seeds within. Do not allow the seeds to escape, don’t try to separate the sweet from the bitter. Hold it all there in the front of your mouth, and with each slow bite compress your lips and tongue so that the sweet juice trickles out. Coat your tongue with it, let each bite fill your mouth with juice until the sweetness crowds out your breath and you are forced to swallow.

As you swallow, let that compression squeeze the last bit of juice from the rose hip until all that is left is a dry mash between your teeth. Find a worthy spot along the trail and blow the seeds out all in a rush, letting them scatter. They will fall to the earth and burrow through the dark of the year, while you can go back to the briar patch and seek out another heavy-lidded fruit. Repeat until sated, or until the dew rises with the sun.

That is how you eat a wild rose hip. Any questions?

Basic Birding

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I love watching birds, and I want to know more about them. What I want to avoid is having to learn about them, specifically by studying birds from books. I tried that last Fall, when I bought the smallest birding primer you’ve ever seen, about 3″ x 3″ square, called Birdwatching For Dummies. It’s got a large font size, generous line spacing, and only 120 pages. I am still only halfway through it, and I can accurately report that I haven’t retained a single piece of information from the first half. This is probably some sort of undiagnosed handicap of mine, but fortunately I have developed a couple workarounds.

Bodega Bay, it turns out, is a major stopover on the Pacific flyway, both for birds and for birdwatchers. My favorite method of knowing more about birds involves taking Vince for a walk down to the rail ponds or the bird walk park. Invariably I will spot some pretty bird, and then will notice someone with binoculars nearby. I approach the birder and ask what he or she is looking for. They tell me all about the species they’re hoping to sight, and then I ask some version of the question, “What’s that over there?” This is known by me as a twofer, a rare occasion to know something new about two or more birds at the same time.

My second favorite method of knowing more about birds is by making it up, also known as guessing. A case in point occurred a few days ago while driving Jojo to school on a beautiful sunny morning. We were heading east just past the town of Bodega, when looking to my left high atop a phone pole was a sight that could have come straight out of a National Geographic feature on ancient Egypt, or a book on mythology. A turkey vulture was perched on the pole, completely motionless, wings spread wide, with its back to the sun. It was a majestic, fearsome sight. Jojo asked me why it stood there like that, and summoning a thread of logic from some place not associated with Portents of Doom, I told her it was warming itself up by having the largest possible surface area of its feathers facing the sun.

Now this is a perfectly reasonable guess, but it still is just a guess and no doubt mostly incorrect. But it brings me to my third favorite way of knowing more about birds, which is by asking my brother-in-law Jon. He’s a smart guy and a devoted birder, and by virtue of having married into the family probably feels obligated to clear up my misconceptions about turkey vultures, or birds in general, whenever we’re on the same continent. The drawback to this method of course is that I have to remember all the random guesses I’ve made since our last visit in order to get them clarified point for point. Still, I find this an enjoyable and perfectly workable method.

In conclusion, if you want to know more about a subject but are basically incapable of learning it through traditional means, it’s good to have a back-up plan. Also, the most enjoyable thing about birds by far is having the time to just sit and watch them, unimpeded by demands of work, conversation, driving, or other activities. Some say the birds will even teach you themselves. That sounds like a thrill.

At the Edge of the Marsh

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Today I was out at Laguna Farm helping a friend with her computer. I took Vince out to stretch his legs after awhile and wandered around the farm, which is at the edge of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. We meandered in the glorious afternoon sun past sheds, trailers, chickens, fallow and planted beds towards open land.

The gravel driveway had a slick layer of mud over it all, so I hopped from grass clump to grass clump until we reached an area where a path had been built up with wood chips. Gratefully, I jumped onto the higher ground it afforded and continued strolling. But even the wood chips were no match for the soggy soil, and in places I watched my foot sink three inches down into what had seemed moments before a nice dry spot to step on.

Just past the last fenced-in area, past the ancient pickup that probably still ran because the tires weren’t totally sunk in mud, the wood chips ended and we were back in grass again. I looked down to watch my feet for a second and when I looked back up, just ahead of me emerged from the grass a pair of mallards, scooting between two clumps of grass into water that was deep enough to swim away in. The male’s plumage was radiant, iridescent, like he had been tremendously envigorated by all the rain and didn’t care who saw. The pair walked in step with each other with such confidence and intelligence that they were clearly wild, and I watched them paddle under tufts of tall grass then re-emerge, following the bobbing of their heads until they were completely obscured by the vista of the marshland as a whole.

What is the boundary between land and water? Our language is full of phrases that explore the question: walking into a quagmire, on high ground, a slippery slope. What seems solid ground transforms beneath you in a split second and suddenly you’re not looking at a marsh, you’re in one and have only one foot left on dry land. It was a beautiful moment, that looking up and realizing that I had crossed a boundary from domesticated to wild land without even knowing it.

If this were a dream, that would be the good news of the dream. If this were a tarot reading it would be about a positive reversal of fortunes and hidden riches emerging. If this were a car commercial, I would now have a car with actual padding in the driver’s seat cushion. But I prefer the marsh, my wet shoes, and the breathtaking, ordinary sight of a pair of ducks, disturbed but unhurried, disappearing into the wild.

Onward Into the Night

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I know this is the season of gathering darkness, I can tell from the fact that the sun sets way before dinnertime and rises just in time for me to walk the dog before work. It is winter here: the new grass is taller than my shoes, the ground is always damp, and the night air burns my nose with its mixture of cold, wet, and woodsmoke.

In my effort to clean up the front yard, I’ve started hauling the chopped ends of 2 x 4s, construction cast-offs that have been lost to the overgrown grasses, into piles and onto the back porch. So far I have barely made a dent in the seemingly endless supply of ready firewood around here. The woodstove has been going every night for the past couple weeks, ever since the unseasonable warm spell around the last full moon passed away. I find myself remembering that Laura Ingalls Wilder book The Long Winter where it’s the coldest winter on record for the settlers and they use up all their wood, and by the end they’re spending all day twisting grass together to keep something burning in their stove as they all huddle around it. Melodramatic, I know, but I enjoy being able to tell from the morning clouds what kind of weather is coming in, and how much time I have to bring more wood inside before it starts raining.

I am used to equating winter with a mythic descent into the dark, like Psyche or Kore entering the Underworld. In years past this association has worked for me, but not this year. Maybe it’s because I’m not living around as many trees as I’m used to, and the darkness has fewer places to gather. The hills around here are bare, windswept, and rise in uneven arcs against the sky as though etched with the finest chisel. Trees survive only in the hollows, though there are occasional stands of cypress here in town and on the ranchland surrounding us, planted as windbreaks by an earlier generation of coast dwellers.

Sometimes it is late by the time I get home at night, and I have to walk Vince in the pitch black. I don’t bring a flashlight, and though I have to rely on my feet knowing the trail into the empty circuit of road that is our local dog run, when I get there I can dimly make out the white of the sidewalk against the black asphalt–enough to feel confident as we walk through the silent night. Above me the stars are a glittering majesty, the Milky Way so clear and beautiful it is almost painful to behold. The clouds, if there are any, come in like long wisps of light, or dense and mottled like the shell of a giant tortoise.

There are birds sometimes, the shadow of a barn owl flying low, fast and effortless. Vince’s presence stirs up some red pharalopes sleeping on the road, that cry out and take wing invisibly as we walk. But mostly our only accompaniment is the foghorn and the constant surge of the surf in the distance. This does not feel like a gathering of anything; this is a great emptiness, a night more vast than I have yet experienced. It is an emptiness that does not rule out light, or heat, or happiness, but puts them in their proper context: pinpricks of starlight in its great expanse, made visible to us now through the trick of the seasons.

I am spellbound by the ruthless clarity of this winter, awestruck at the stark beauty all around me, and happy in my warm, brightly lit little corner of the universe while the wheel of the year spins so close outside my windows. There is a peace in the darkness, and a respite which I desperately need. These days, I breathe it in with the cold and wet, and it feels wonderful.

The Earth Turns Color

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Fall is a beautiful season here in Sonoma County. Being a California native, I have taken umbrage at those who claim that California doesn’t have proper seasons. These people can only see two: rainy and dry—and they usually complain about the rain. Yet to me, the four seasons fit perfectly with what I see, feel, smell, and experience through the year here.

Fall begins hinting in mid-July when the acorns start dropping from the oak trees. Then around early August the oak leaves start to turn brown—slowly at first, but by September when the heat comes in waves and the whole region is baked by the harvest sun the oaks are joined by the fruit trees, the grape vines, and lastly by the maples which need a good cold snap to really turn.

At the Fall Equinox, the season has been around for about six weeks by my calendar. Then comes the browning of the earth, one of the most difficult points of the year for me. The chickory, which blooms by the roadside in brilliant blue late into August, has finished its flowering and turned to seed. The grasses are long since harvested, the cows have trampled the golden hills so even the pastoral vistas look tired, overused. Taking a walk through nearby Ragle Park into the seasonal wetland around Atascadero Creek, the ground which stays damp so long into the summer is baked dry. The foliage is not only dry and brown but sparse, as though picked over far too many times by hungry critters. Even the birds are brown, fat little nondescript birds the color of mud, with no song of brilliance to offer the day, only monotone chirps as they go over every stalk once again on their rounds.

The land, the animals, the people, all wait for the rain. It is a wait with an edge of pleading to it: many of us remember the seven years of drought within the last decade, when the rains started hopeful but soon petered out, leaving the hills a delicate green that barely lasted through mid-spring. But even without the rains the air changes in late fall, dropping its pollens and the dust from harvest’s tractors, stripped down to some essence of fall-turning-to-winter. As the air changes, the browning of the year starts to feel less like fall and more like winter. It still can be hot during the day but the air is crisp and cold at night, and even the fog rolling in from the ocean has a stinging bite that is characteristic of winter.

Finally, the rains begin. The earth opens her pores, everyone tilts their heads up to wet their faces. The trampled grass of the fall turns to wet straw, and finally to a mat of mulch which helps the land conserve the water that is falling. The dirt-brown birds go away somewhere and their hapless cheeping is replaced by the erotic sound of frogs in the wetlands. Frog singing is a very wet sound, like slick skin enveloping yours. It comes from all around, not a single source, and if you time it right you can walk through the deafening sound and be completely transported to the Dreamtime.

The frogs bring winter but it’s a bebop winter, full of wild syncopation, surges and silences that catch your attention and keep it enthralled. The dampness freshens the air, plumping it up and making it feel so good in the lungs. It’s as though with every breath we re-hydrate ourselves after the long waiting spell. Rather than causing the air to lose its clarity, the rain makes the air crystalline, brilliant. Standing on a hillside after a rain, there is such an incisiveness to the air that one feels capable of seeing with perfect acuity well beyond the horizon.

That is the weather I love the best here: the kind that finally warrants pulling out the wool sweaters and dressing in layers. Sure, it rarely snows in the coastal foothills, but an arctic storm is an arctic storm no matter what temperature it is. I love it when the wind howls and the rain pounds and finally sunny California is forced to batten down the hatches and cease activity, if only for a long night. Maybe it’s the revenge of the introverts, this love of winter in a sunny clime. Inwardly I sneer and scoff at those who complain of the cold and damp. I can be tipped into road rage upon hearing one too many radio djs refer to winter storms as “bad weather” and sunny December days as “good weather.” For heaven’s sake, didn’t we learn anything from the drought?! Seasonally-appropriate weather is good weather.

The kneejerk prejudices of news anchors and commentators towards the weather also shows up in their near total lack of understanding of the seasons. December 21st is the Winter Solstice, also known as Midwinter. Here in California, Midwinter means exactly what it says: it’s the middle of winter. Not the beginning of winter, as you will hear everywhere. Winter begins here with the rains and the turning of the air around Samhain, or the beginning of November—give or take. By the mid-winter holidays, it’s been around for quite a while.

I will write more about winter when we finally get there, but now we have entered the long waiting period, the browning of the earth, and the sun is beating down on us in great waves of inescapable heat and the dust rises in anticipation of each foot setting on the trail. The fall teaches a plodding patience, and is interspersed with moments of almost unbearable sweetness as a choice ripe fig or luscious pear comes within grasp. May we all bow to the lessons of the seasons, and come to ripeness in our own time.

Walking in Paradise

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I woke up this morning with a stiff left shoulder and clavicle, stretching all the way to a stiff neck, especially on the left side. This is something that happens off and on, and I deal with it in several different ways. Today I decided to take a long walk, my favorite meditative way to deal with physical imbalances. So I got up early, threw on some clothes, and headed out the door for a 45-minute circuit walk through the neighborhood.

I’ve been taking this walk ever since we moved to Sebastopol over 16 years ago. Back then, with a 1-year-old and 3-year-old, it was the only time I really took for myself. It helped me clear my mind and heart from the relentless work of mothering, and more importantly, it helped me get acquainted with my new home. We had just moved up from San Francisco, and I missed it terribly. All my friends, my community, my favorite haunts, the things I relied on to stay centered while raising children, we had left behind in the City. Here, just outside of town on a semi-rural piece of land, I knew I needed to get rooted somehow in my new home and I knew it would take some time. So I figured out a way to walk through our neighborhood, down a connecting street, and back along Occidental Road, which borders the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Then walking up a private road and cutting briefly across a neighbor’s back field, I made it back to our house.

I took this walk as much as I could, all year round (except for when the back field got too wet during the winter). I watched the berries ripen in the summer, I picked rosehips in the winter and made them into tea, I noted when the willows bloomed in the early spring and where to find the best oak galls in the fall for the kids to make little creatures out of. It took me about a year and a half of taking this walk before I felt rooted in this land, and it taught me a lot about what it takes to be at home somewhere.

This morning I couldn’t take the dog with me on my walk, because to straighten out the kinks in my shoulder I had to let both arms swing free. For being in reasonably good shape, I sure felt stiff and sluggish walking. I felt like I was packed in about 6 inches of jelly-like invisible substance that made freedom of movement just an artifact of memory. It was early enough that the big noisy machinery our neighbors are using to build their new house wasn’t in full swing yet, nor were our other neighbors’ dogs with their barking. Eventually, I perked up enough to notice some beautiful red roses blooming along a neighbor’s fence, and how another neighbor really needs to do some weeding along the curb.

My body loves walking uphill, and this walk has a nice hill to climb early on. By the top of the hill, my heart felt like it was humming along and my lungs had cleared out all the whatever-it-is from sleep that makes me so sluggish in the morning. I was still feeling a lot of stiffness in my shoulder, but at least it was now a localized stiffness. With every step, I imagined my shoulder carriage hanging relaxed from my spine, swinging effortlessly with the steady rhythm of my gait.

By the time I turned down the hill toward the laguna, I started feeling that sense of skeletal clarity and muscle coordination that I love the most about walking. It’s as though I have internal x-ray vision, and I can see my bones all working together the way they’re supposed to. My head could swing from side to side easily, and I started noticing plants: pearly everlasting, Queen Anne’s lace, chickory, fennel, dandelion, scarlet pimpernel, star thistle. Juniper, willow, Himalayan blackberry, Scotch broom, wild rose. Fir, eucalyptus, valley oak, live oak, cedar, redwood.

Humans are meant to walk. When my body gets really warmed up, I can imagine feeling like this walking across the savannah tens of thousands of years ago. I imagine that the penchant for identifying roadside plants is a remnant of gatherer’s mentality, and the simple act of pausing to eat ripe berries becomes infused with ancestral awareness.

So there I was, enjoying this delicious split awareness as I walked alongside the beautiful, lazy laguna. The local herd of cows was grazing on the grassland there, and a few turkey vultures made their rounds among the trees by the waterway. By this time, all the stiffness had left my shoulders, and I just had a few sore muscles left there as reminder. My walk felt powered by that mysterious force of locomotion that is centered in the pelvis. Like a great, subtle gyroscope, its figure-8 movement is enough to kick our legs out for the next step forward, and send a slight weaving motion up our spine, which like some ancient plant stem just knows how to move and sway to keep us perfectly balanced as we walk.

Thus aligned, I braved the increasing traffic speeding down the road (note to self: get started a little earlier next time to avoid commuters) till I got to the oddly named private road which leads me back home. The apple rancher who lives there was busy loading up a huge flatbed trailer with empty apple-picking boxes, stacked three high. Though the apples don’t look so good this year—late rains this spring made them kind of scaly and gnarled-looking—they still make great juice, and he and his crew must be starting the harvest through Sebastopol’s remaining Gravenstein orchards.

Across our little shared seasonal wetland, through the berry brambles and towering valley oaks of the laguna uplands where we live, and up the slight rise to our house. I’m not sure I have words adequate to describe the feeling of gratitude, centeredness and belonging that comes to me with taking this walk. This afternoon I have to drive to Sacramento and back, a hellish errand, which will I’m sure reinstate my neck and shoulder tension with full force. But then, looking on the bright side, maybe tomorrow morning I can get up early and take another walk in paradise.