Monday, February 7, 2011


A THROWBACK OAK WOODLAND lies a mile or so from the house. Open space. Prime for development. Perfect for infill, so that subdivisions to the south and east can be connected by boulevards and streetlights to shopping and services to the west.

But, thanks to a down economy and the unsustainable over-reach of easy credit, here is where the development ends. At least for the time being, the oak woodland is preserved. Not protected preserved formally for this is not a park. I can run my dogs off leash – this morning much to the chagrin of a passel of wild turkeys.

BUT PROTECTED PRESERVED just as well, because money is tight. I’m okay with that. A paved path leads west, but quickly gives way to a traditional trail.

DIRT SLICING through grasslands. The cool, heavy morning air carries the din of a freeway, only a few hundred yards north. But a few moments walking around and one is apt to forget the noise.

AN EARLY SUN highlights the waxy, yellow green leaves of the canyon live oak. Several dot the area along with many Quercus cousins: black oak, blue oak and scrub. Their derelict sticks and branches are ripe for tossing and fetching.

A WINDSTORM a decade or so back, felled a valley oak. “Rainbow Shelf Fungus,” arranging itself so much like an Anasazi cliff dwelling, patiently works on the felled wood. Within the century, this hulk will return to the soil.  (Dig a close up of this remarkable fungi by clicking on the picture - then clicking on it again. -ed.)

THE TRAIL TRACES A CREEK, its channel the carving itself deeper into the decomposed granite and sand that makes up the base of the area’s soil. At points the water gouges the soft soils creating ten-to-fifteen foot cliffs ready to collapse into the current. Standing too close will result in a twisted ankle and damaged ego and camera

NEARBY, A BLACKBERRY BRAMBLE can’t decide whether this February morning is the end of last autumn or the beginning of next spring.

TWO BLUE OAKS are married for eternity undoubtedly the result of two (or more) acorns sprouting in concert with one another. The result is a heritage tree that invites little boys to climb on its branches in the summer.

A VOLUNTEER APPLE has decided that it is, indeed spring. Three days ago, these blossoms were not even buds. Shows us what 70 degrees in February pre-tells.

ANOTHER VOLUNTEER, not native to this area: pyracantha. Mom told me these occur because a drunken jay will swallow the intoxicating berries and then poop them out all over the neighborhood. Who am I to argue with mom?  Truth be told, as a seven-year-old, I kinda enjoyed it when mom used the term "poop."

THOSE WHO WENT BEFORE knew the value of this pristine land. The area is dotted with a half dozen car bodies left by folks conservative enough with their own dollar that they saw value in leaving these rusting hulks here rather than having them hauled off for recycle or paying for admittance to the land fill. Others follow, firing a few rounds into the carcasses to ensure that the damned things are dead.  Not right sure when this modern-day dinosaur will "return to the soil."

THE POND IS NOT NATURAL, either. But on a calm mid-winter morning, its glass surface is home to a pair of mallards, a small committee of Canadian geese, a cormorant who’d staked out the floating end of a half-sunk log, and a snowy egret who is more than a little aware of our advance.

 THOSE WHO WENT BEFORE knew the value of this pristine land.  It seems to me that the Indians who preceded us in this area were able to live meagerly within the means provided.  Ironic that within footsteps of this site, huge, huge homes loom - each with a huge, huge mortgage not necessarily to be paid in strictly monetary terms.  An exposed slab of granite ‘neath a partial canopy of oak provided area Maidu maidens with space for grinding and leaching acorns as well as gossip and song.

AN EARLY MORNING HOUR in these woods highlight the upside of a down economy and I hope this land will remain open for years to come.  But then, I know better...

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Thinking about moving back to the northern Central Valley after 30 years in San Francisco. Notes like yours capture the spirit of what I'm looking for, what I remember. It's still there along 20, 70, 395, all the bypassed byways.

  2. Yep. Just a matter of scratchin' around and knowing where to look. There are tons of pleasant places to which one might escape - and to which, the lucky of us, might get to settle.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.