Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last Weekend's Hike: Portuguese Bend Trail

I spent last weekend walking along the Portuguese Bend Trail in the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve.  Beautiful scenery.  The weather was atypical for Southern California.  It was foggy, raining and chilly.  That would keep a good number of people away from the woods and trees, but this park sees a steady stream of visitors regardless of the weather. 

Last August, the park was engulfed in flames.  According to the Conservancy’s 2010 1st Quarter Newsletter, about 165 acres burned.  Walking about the trails I could see the clear evidence of fire destruction.  Happily, I also saw evidence of regrowth.  Even though it was a year, later the rain made the smell of soot and ash very easy to detect.

This area is filled with large patches of opportunistic fennel that grab the empty real estate left after a fire.  Humans seem to be the only ones that dislike the herb.  It’s considered an invasive species in California  and is usually slated for eradication by one method or another, even though it has been wild here over a century.  Several bird and insect species love the stuff.  The plant perfumes the air when the fog rolls in, making any walk memorable for the smells alone. 

The twisted, fire-ravaged trees made wonderful Tim Burtonesque shapes in the grey fog.  I expected the headless horseman to come flying out of the fennel fields holding a flaming head.  Instead I had to (several times) hastily make way for a heavily-geared mountain biker who looked like something out of Battlestar Galactica.

I also noticed the network of fissures along the Ishibashi sub-trail.  After it rains the area hills become waterlogged and the upper layer of land slides down along the more steadfast, lower layer.  Landslides aren’t uncommon in these parts, but it’s still impressive to see the cracks and fissures that precede the break away. 

I went to the trail twice that weekend.  It rained both days and I muddied up 2 pairs of hiking boots.  It was worth it, though.  

You may not be able to sense it from the paragraphs above, but walking in the woods is crucial to my mental health.  Ever since I can remember, and I mean, really remember anything, nature has been like another soul to me.  It isn't "me" and "it".  It is "soul mate".  I don't just appreciate nature, I have a personal relationship with it.  I have mentioned to some folks that it is my First Love.  It calls me back every once in a while like some jealous lover.  It fills the mental and spiritual voids.  

When I was a little girl I used to come home from school and, after watching Dr Who or Star Trek, I would go outside and just look at nature.  Stick my feet in a stream and watch minnows nip at my toes.  Climb a tree and look at the pattern of the bark or the seed pods on a magnolia.  I'd follow my cat, Fred- my kitty Sherpa guide, all over our territory.  I would observe the anole lizards and study their hunting skills.  Sometimes I would just watch how the wind would move over the bayou reeds, in waves and in a frequency I eventually absorbed.  I'd watch the thunderstorms move over the Gulf before the wind got too strong and I had to go back inside.  

When I was older the connection was stronger.  I could "feel" my way through the woods without a compass by just sensing something from the trees and ground.   I knew it would rain days before it happened.  I could smell the differences in tree species.  My skills were a little more Jedi.  I could feel the hum of the earth beneath my feet.  As I sit here and type, I am amazed that so much of that neural net is rusty.  I have been working inside for waaaaaaay too long.  

It- Nature was, and still is a breathing entity to whom I belong.  I am like some distal phalange or a scout insect from a colony. I am part of some larger brain/force and destined to carry out it whatever impulse it sends my way.  It's no wonder I initially went for a career in natural and environmental science.  This career was far too brief.  The military is very good at diverting your attention, apparently.  

Now it seems my First Love has come back at my window (or patio) and has demanded that I start making some preparation to come back out to the woods.   Each time I go back to a trail, some buried memory surfaces and taunts me.  What's a little wood-witch like me to do?

So.  3 more years and I will be able to pull up the anchor and go find my little woods.  I'll be ready.   Meantime, I hike a trail.

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