Chasing the Muse
My sister, Claudia, phones from Idaho.
“There’s a red robin in my backyard,” she says. “That must mean spring. Except that he’s sitting on a pile of snow, and there is a snowflake on his head.”
I tell her I’m sorry, and not to hate me, but I’m dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, just back from a hike in the open space. Spring – aka, the robin in my sister’s yard – has brought to our rain quenched hillsides a magnificent display.
The ridge tops and canyons behind Laguna are wildly alive with every shape and color of flower and stem imaginable.
I’d set out mid-morning just as the fog was beginning to drift back toward the Pacific. The trail was devoid of human or bike traffic. The dogs scampered along the edges of the path, and we encountered only three others on our trek to the water tower and back.
Blue, yellow and orange penstemon reached their spiky arms out and toward the sky. Lacy tendrils of sage released their pungent scent as my legs brushed through the overgrowth. The fragrance reminded me of grilled eggplant and my mother’s stuffed turkey.
Soft orange monkey flowers poked their heads through the chaparral along with purple and white lupines. Blue salvia and tiny white daisy-like flowers filled out an artist palette in the wild.
On the ridgeline, the tall willowy stems of the non-native mustard swayed in the breeze. The much maligned and invasive flower is so lovely, it is hard to wish it ill, even as it chokes out other plant life. Water droplets left by the fog clung to the flower petals and short leaves. They glistened in the sunlight with prism like reflections.
Overhead, a pair of ravens swooped close to the pathway. The “ffwhapp” of their wings heard could be heard even over the soft roar of the not-too-distant tollway.
I stopped to share water with the dogs and pondered the massive road that dissects our precious wildlands. I felt a bit of residual sorrow that we had lost the fight to prevent it’s cut through the park, and wished that with hindsight, we had fought to bury it, rather than try and prevent it.
My fears turn toward the threatened extension of the 241 Tollway through San Mateo Creek and the watershed off San Onofre State Beach. While it had appeared that the battle had been won with the Coastal Commission’s rejection of the road, our Governor seems determined, through stacking his commissions, to override the will of those who would be most affected by the road’s presence.
Reminds me in some way of the Great Park, which was destined to be an airport – except that the will of the people trumped the efforts the airport authority and the legislators. What actually prevailed was a vote (several in fact) for preserving and maximizing our quality of life.
San Mateo Creek begins its seaward journey in the Santa Ana Mountains. The mainstream of the creek is 22 miles and flows down and through Camp Pendleton to the Pacific. The watershed comprises over 85,000 acres and approximately 139 square miles of relatively undeveloped terrain. Land ownership is a mix of private, federal and state entities.
Because the land has been preserved for generations as openspace, an amazing diversity of wildlife continues to prosper in the area. Mountain lions, deer, hawks, roadrunners, and bobcats are common. The habitat is also home to seven federally endangered or threatened species. It feels like an honor to walk next to a creek so near to the ocean.
As I hike our own Laguna wilderness, I again ponder the immeasurability of open space – not merely for recreation, but the spiritual and psychic values for which there is no price tag. A walk down a dusty trail away from our daily hustle, heals us, renews us, reminds us of our connections to and with the natural world.
Every square foot/mile/hectare that we can snatch from our own development grasp seems more and more a miracle. In a mere thirty years, south Orange County has been transformed from small towns to a nearly contiguous urban sprawl. Much of what we took for granted has already been lost.
We fought hard for the wildlands that ring Laguna and reach out her narrow canyon toward our inland neighbors. We know how differently we feel when we spend time in her shelter.
The canyons, the parks, the creeks cannot speak for themselves, but we can hear them inside our souls if we are willing to listen. We can know their silent voices that provide access to our own intuitive knowledge.
In our heart of hearts, we don’t need another road. But we do need a creek, a tree-shaded path, and clean beaches – beyond the reach of auto noise and pollution.
Catharine Cooper loves wild places. She can be reached at email@example.com
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