Park Ridge Trail, Morro Bay State Park

Over the shoulder of the town of Los Osos is the Pacific Ocean. Shielded by a sand spit, Los Osos hides from that deceptive and ill-named body of water that is not peaceful even when it appears calm, as today. I walk at low tide east from the Pacific and watch the ocean’s fingers snake their way to the back of Morro Bay until the sand sucks out the sea water and becomes a soupy mess. It pulls your shoes off if you venture out in a kayak at the wrong time of the tidal day and need to step out to unstick your ride.

But today, as I walk away from the coast, away from home, I head toward Morro Bay State Park’s Park Ridge Trail. It’s nice to watch the ocean from a distance. The walking path rises and falls around a hill that gives a magnificent view of the saltwater marsh in the shallow end of the bay.

Imperfect wildflowers lay along the path and up the hillside. Taller than me, the golden yarrow shines bright and the tiny baby blue eyes brush my boots. The plants are vivid today, but remind me that the wildflower season is almost past. Cow parsnip, morning glory, sticky monkey flower, milk thistle and purple salsify are saying their goodbyes.

The hills today still carry the mist from the coast, making the air mild and my cheeks refreshed. The sun here is powerful and insistent, but waved away by the breeze. A green blush on the hillside won’t be there next time I walk this path. Even today, just one or two weeks since the last rain, the hills are streaked with golden. A change is coming about from this winter’s 3-D green. The waving ends of aging grass and flowers sway over the crest of the hill, a springtime pastel against the blue of a balmy sky.

I walk on a path that has been visited recently by a run of bicycles and many feet. A diligent maintenance crew has kept the main paths broad. Smaller, happenstance cutaways lead to places I didn’t prepare to see today. Most are made by adventurous hikers who know the area better than I. Once I get past the first hill, I realize how broad and expansive is this parkland. There are a dozen break-off paths, some posting legitimate signs: Quarry Trail, Crespi Trail, Chumash Trail. The named trails are blazed by the park maintenance crews, but many others are side-lined single walking jaunts that lure me to break the rules. But I know it’s best in all ways to stay on the cleared paths. Safer for me and safer for the creatures who live here on the hillside.

I see some of these: little rabbits, a couple quails, a buzzard flying above. I hear others:  a scampering away as I turn a bend, a swish around a tall bush, several bird voices I can’t identify. I also see many off-shoots of trails that these creatures have made, so small I am not even tempted to change my route. Running under, next to and through thorny vegetation, they seem to head toward a cleft of water that I hear but can’t see.

Since moving to this area, I have been so entertained by the sea: the constant sound, the soothing beach sand, the shallow tides I can slip my toes into every day year-round. I have been facing west for five years, in wonderment at this ocean home. Happily today, I am discovering a walking buffet east of my house. I can’t wait for my next ramble through these coastal hills, and wonder why my feet have been so long in walking this way.

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Walking Small

 

IMG_2031There are times when walks need to be close to home, maybe even just around your very own space. Has anyone taken a garden walk inside the fences where you live? Or around the walls of the place you call home?

The place I call home is so small that two steps takes me outside. But the weather here is glorious, so my small walks are almost always outdoors. It may take some practice, but when you walk small, a short step can be wonderfully filled with details to enjoy. It helps to look three inches from your nose, or bend down and really admire what is close at hand. It’s amazing what you can find close enough to touch, and familiar enough to be loved daily.

It also helps to take along a companion or two, creature comforts to remind you that it’s pleasant to stretch the moment out, enjoy what is right here at this one instant in time. Perhaps they will go along on the next small walk, letting you stop for a sip here and a pat there and a photo somewhere else along the way.

You can plan out future walks, and reminisce over trinkets brought home from past rambles. By the time your walk is coming to an end, your tea cup may be empty and your creature companions tiring.

Sometimes the views close to home, the introspective views that keep you in touch with little changes, are the best ones for slow walks. Count on them to refresh the soles of your feet as well as your very own soul.

I wish you a happy walk, whether close to home or far away. Susan

 

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Walking with the Spring Bloom

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Central California hillside

Native Californians, like myself, grow up with a spring bloom every year. For most of the year, in fact, we can rely on blossoms of some sort. But wildflowers adore springtime, and that is when we go searching. Off into nature I trek, with my hubby in tow.

I had heard of an area east along Highway 58 that we could get to without a lengthy drive. Though I wanted to see the spring bloom, I wanted to spend my time walking among the luster of new flowers, not riding in a car.

Even the drive there was spectacular. We stopped along the way to do a small bit of exploring.

Eagle-eyed hubby spotted a golden eagle and then its nest. We waited close by, but neither our presence nor the noise of the crows in the next-door tree persuaded the eagle to reappear.

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Golden Eagle nest

We continued down the roadway. I’d not really thought out this day with detailed planning. ‘A spot east along Highway 58’ is truly as far as my itinerary got. I figured that somewhere along the way, the place would present itself, and we would find ourselves among the spring bloom.

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a short side-trip stroll

This is the landscape I grew up with. As a young girl in Sacramento, as a young woman near San Jose, and later in Bakersfield and Fresno, these rolling hills and oak trees were always with me. I want to say this landscape is the most beautiful on earth, but I think that’s my familiarity with the natural decor talking. Much of the year, these hills are dry and forlorn. Your skin will crack with exposure and your eyes will strain with glare from the sun. This territory is synonymous with my life, and I consider it wondrous.

As do so many others. East along Highway 58 in central California, we came across this sight:

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Our neighbors

With such a stampede of people, I guessed we had reached our destination. We parked, grabbed our hats and walked to discover the views. Of course, there were wildflowers. Common tidy tips, several varieties of lupine, fields of mustard and yarrow.

But there were also many, many people, like myself, who wanted to see the spring bloom before it faded. With packed lunches, multiple generations,  friends and families, they came. They carried babies, backpacks, cameras and umbrellas. Out in the middle of a land far from any sidewalk, there walked myself and a swarm of my neighbors.

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Spring Blooming with people

The views I wanted were there.

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You can almost smell the fresh

The views I hadn’t anticipated made me laugh. I’d thought to bring my hat and camera, but I hadn’t thought of picnic blankets, folding chairs and Frisbees for the dogs. I hadn’t thought to bring my dog, either. But others thought of all that and much more.

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More than I expected

What a complete surprise my wildflower walk became. Along a creek bed, me and my fellow county dwellers watched a torrent of polliwogs writhe in a springtime dance. We clamored up hillsides. We dodged cars.

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Love ’em

At the end of a walk in the middle of nowhere, with nearly half the population of my county, a fitting sign pulled my attention as we left.

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Very generous 🙂

There we were, hundreds of central Californians, on someone’s private property. I am going to believe in the generosity of the owners, because I couldn’t have avoided this. On our walk into the area, there had been too many people milling around to notice the sign. Thank you, residents of a place east on Highway 58.

 

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Walking, Weather or Not

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Rain or no rain?

Have you ever looked out the window and wondered if you should postpone taking a walk because of what you saw? Today, I was presented with two views out my window. One, sunny and brilliant, encouraged my feet. The other told me in complete certainty that I shouldn’t be stepping out the door. Then a rainbow spread over the sky, which against the dark clouds, made my confusion even more perplexing.

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Looking south
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Looking north

Of course, I went. And, of course, the weather went with me. Down to the beach, one side of the sky filled with brilliant sunshine and the other, a flip-side of dark threatening clouds. Threatening what, I wanted to ask myself? More rain would be a blessing, even after so much wet this winter. Sometimes threats are really just promises hiding in over-used expressions.

Still, this hope for rain didn’t make me wish for it right here and now. Would the rain wait until I finished my walk? Nature honestly doesn’t care about my dry feet, so I wasn’t sure at all. Even so, that didn’t make me turn around and head for safety.

But thinking that perhaps I should find a dry place to perch made me pause to admire the tenacity of the shore birds along the way. The night herons lined up diagonally along the wave line, facing the wind as the weather began changing from coolly invigorating to perhaps cold and rainy. They might change their behavior with the weather, but they don’t consider leaving as I do. Brave creatures, staying close to the tide and waiting out the drop in air temperature from 60 degrees F to 52. Living along this coast, where creatures (all of us) have discarded the notion of seasonal migration, is a funny reminder that we live in a bubble of weather bliss.

But there is still the threat of rain. Even when it is a temperate climate, getting wet is still getting wet, and something my socks don’t want to do. At one point in the walk, the sky literally split, with one side being blue and the other cloudy gray.img_8603

Had we had enough rain this season? Since we moved here, almost five years ago, my walks at home have been mostly dry drought walks. Tip-toeing through puddles this last month or two hasn’t yet gotten old. Not for me and my damp socks, nor for the glorious life springing up from a wet earth.

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blooms in late winter

Before the walk ended, that threat had come true. My glasses spotted-over with rain drops. I remembered how important hats were – having forgotten mine for the hundredth time. And I felt the dampness seeping into the sandals I am lucky enough to wear every day. Here I am, loving the rain in central California. More, please.img_8470-1

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Seal Walk

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We all live alongside so many wonderful creatures. In my little corner of this world, I can sometimes hear the bark of seals from my kitchen window. The sound reminds me that there are more important things to do than finish washing the dishes. The seals are calling me to come walk…

but they’re probably all just laying around, enjoying the soothing waters between each rise of the waves. Whether all together on a communal rock or on a solitary perch that lifts just one seal out of the water, it can seem as if all they do is relax. For hours and hours, you can be mesmerized by their inactivity.

But, I have seen herds of them flying through the water near whale-watching boats. Propelling themselves through the waves the way they do on the open sea makes me appreciate their need to recuperate when they come home to the rocks. Just thinking of their ocean frolic makes me yearn for a rest. So, if the seals are in sleep pose while I walk, it’s just their very own restorative yoga.

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The sounds the seals make is somehow compelling to human ears. Who can resist the arf-arf of seals clamoring for a better sleep position. They seem to amiably push aside one another in their effort of settling in for a snooze. Sometimes I wonder how these rugged rocks can be made comfortable, but look how many are settling in below. I leave it to the seals to pick the best spot for an afternoon’s nap.

img_5570 Certainly, I won’t argue that they have chosen well in picking this spot for home. The weather is usually calm, the scenery gorgeous.

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As long as the seals continue to call, I am happy to walk. Sunny day or overcast, they entertain in a way that is calming.

Walking with Vultures

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very good vulture

When I was teaching, I would often ask students to classify nouns, adjectives and verbs. Thumbs up for a word that had a positive feel, thumbs down for the negative. Infrequently, there might pop up a word that was neutral, but – think about it – many words we use have a good/bad reputation. Vulture? Definitely negative.

But I keep encountering them in nature. They glide by me, sometimes far up in the sky, sometimes quite close, and I have decided that I can form my own opinion on their goodness. To me, they seem totally thumbs-up.

I look forward to walks with my vulture friends. Perhaps because I live where many creatures live (and die,) vultures entertain me each day on my afternoon walks. They have become my most reliable walking companions. I love to see the long spread of their wings as they hover over the sage. I had never known the effortless grace of their flight before my walks on the beach. They make me notice them with a persistent presence and a command of the salt-sprayed fog.

img_4968As I walk, they seem to play in the sky. And frolic on the land. Maybe they don’t see things that way, but as I have come to know these friends with feathers, I see their antics. Dipping and swaying with air currents I will never explore, they share with me their freedom. One came so close, I heard the push of a wing as the vulture coasted inches over a dune, just one more trick to make me wish I could be as playful in the air.

Beach weather can change fast, and even when the winds come up and blow the sand, I walk and the vultures glide. The spraying sand doesn’t seem to change their daily romp along the coastline. Nor mine.

They scavenge, but so do I. Maybe they pursue habits that many think of as grizzly, but can’t we just as easily thank them for keeping our trails and walkways clean? There’s a good side to picking at the bones of life, a sort of nature’s way to keep house.

Walking with nature can be surprising, but my walks with vultures have taught me lessons about what we must see and accept. I am grateful for their company, even when vultures are doing what comes naturally. My beachside walks have treated me with a new respect for the word Vulture. Thumbs all the way up.

 

 

Walking Botanical Gardens

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I’m taking a break from the Nordic cruise, which we took in the early spring. Here’s what the Central Coast of California is looking like lately.

I’d passed by the San Luis Obispo County Botanical Garden in El Chorro Regional Park several times a week for the past 4 and 1/2 years. The hillsides this time of year are dry and golden, the oak trees giving plenty of shade. It was past time to take a walk in the garden, to try to identify those pesky volunteer plants that survive my gardener’s neglect. It was a quick 6 mile drive inland from the coast. Off came the sweatshirt, on went the sun hat.

Entering through a cheerful purple bridge over a dry creek bed, the buzz of the bees and the stone steps pulled me into the garden. Even in this late season, after the driest year I remember, there were flowers that lingered.

Plants were labeled, so I began my study, searching out species I’d seen but couldn’t name and verifying names I thought I knew. These botanical gardens are so helpful – I love their handy identification tags and descriptions. I walked around clucking with surprise at names I would never have guessed (propeller plant?) and humming with agreement at the more familiar (so many types of aloe!)

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California Fuchsia
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PomPom
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Strawberry Bush

All the species are adapted to the dry California climate. Like these:IMG_6276

And some blossoming plants served a higher purpose, helping a special little creature steal the show…

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almost camouflaged

…and keep stealing the show…

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again and again.

One of my favorites, an aloe plant, surprised me. This one was huge and stood up from the ground, showing me a new variation on my old favorite.

 

On the way out from the garden, I came across the peskiest plant in my yard, one that keeps finding new places to sprout. Now, instead of inventing bad names, I know what to call it.IMG_6319

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Next up: more of the Nordic cruise

Walking Paso Robles’ Lavender Festival

From one side of the country to the other, I am still loving lavender. I had just returned from Ohio, where I fell in love with the herb. I knew California was a much more friendly climate to the plant, so I looked up local lavender and found an entire festival to celebrate it that very weekend.  Central Coast Lavender Festival, in Paso Robles, was only a 40 minute drive from home, so of course, I made plans to attend.

The town of Paso Robles is just over the coastal hills from us, a hotter and drier climate, perfect for lavender cultivation. I had driven through Paso Robles hundreds of times and visited other areas of the town, but never had I seen the lovely central downtown park. I had heard of its charm and of its many restaurants, so I was eager for the visit.

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Charming dowtown Paso Robles

Paso Robles is a wine-country destination, famous for its vineyards. It draws people from all over the world to visit the wineries. The food scene there is keeping up with the call from the tourists: fresh, local, organic meals that compliment the local wines. I knew that several of these restaurants were in the downtown square. Lavender and a good meal? It would be a pleasant Saturday.

As we drove into town, I wondered if I should have gotten more specific directions. I knew basically where I was going, but the details were hazy. Actually, since I’d never been to this particular area, the details in my head were non-exsistent. But it seemed like it would be simple, and it was. Up ahead as I drove into town was a throng of people. Logic would have it that that was where the festival would be, and today, logic prevailed. I found easy parking nearby, grabbed my hat, and walked toward the crowd. Just down to the end of the block was one of the most pleasant downtowns I’d ever seen. Why had I not visited before?

Paso Robles can get hot in the summer. I left home enjoying 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) and arrived to the festival in 90 degrees F (32 degrees C.) But the downtown square was designed to keep people out of the sun, with trees shading the sidewalks and a huge canopy of greenery towering over the entire park-like square. Today, the aroma of lavender pulled me toward the booths, laid out along the walkways of the outdoor plaza.

Lavender-colored bags were handed out to everyone, encouraging us all to fill them with not only live plants, but also lavender essential oil, lavender soap, lavender spray, lavender sachets, lavender tea. Then there were all the other items that accompany festivals in California: hand-crafted wooden bird houses and cutting boards, hand-crafted beads and jewelry, hand-made hats and baskets and clothing.

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Under the cool oaks

Under the enormous live oaks, people cheerfully sold and others bought whatever their desires or pocketbooks allowed. Entertainers took their turns providing music and dance and authorities gave information about the benefits of lavender. Apparently, it helps every known ailment. As I walked the pathways, I enjoyed the outdoor scent of lavender, the sound of people enjoying themselves, talking and laughing, and the sight of a California main square restored to perfection.

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90 degrees F or 32 C, it is pretty hot without the shade

 

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lots of lavender stuff, but lots of all sorts of stuff, too.

I escaped the growing heat by sitting down to a nice lunch at the corner deli. A crowded gathering had enticed me to finally visit this buzzing downtown. Why had I waited so long? Now, I looked around the square, planning my next visit. Which restaurant would I try on my return?

Walking with Wildlife

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Rugged with a capital ‘R”

At times, I complain about our rugged American walking life. We have trails, not walking paths. We walk in rustic, remote national parks, not through our cities. I have even – a time or two – been driven away from a walk by nature itself. But today, I am offering a tribute to walking with wildlife all around. It can be a remarkable and reviving experience of renewal. Isn’t that exactly why we walk?

I take a daily stroll around my central California coastal neighborhood. After four years living here, it still is refreshingly new. It is also more rugged than refined. The first thing I do is cross the famous Pacific Coast Highway, State Route One, always on the list for the world’s most beautiful and dangerous highways. The second thing I do is head for my usual path to the beach, filled with sand and stickers and the changeable route through the dunes.

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just another rustic path?

Today, the third thing I did on this walk was stop in the middle of the path for this:

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S/he’s a beauty.

S/he didn’t move, and I worried. Should I just step around? Should I be concerned for its health? It wasn’t a rattlesnake, so I wasn’t afraid. It – a gopher snake? – looked to me like it had just eaten something quite big,

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there’s a big lump right there

so I knew it might just be in that after-glow of a good meal. Snakes don’t loosen their belts, they lull.

I retreated, and took a different path through the dunes.

Horses have accompanied me on every single walk I have ever taken on this beach. One or two or sometimes three ride along together. Today, a herd was there.

Look closely, some were riding bareback. They frolicked and circled and raced and the riders hooted and laughed. When there are twenty horses and twenty people involved in this amount of hoop-la, it’s noticeable, even above the thunder of the surf. And then the horses and riders actually did surf. Or very nearly.

My usual walks also include a lot of this

and that

And if I am lucky, I can climb the steps up the bluff at the turn-around point of my walk, sit for awhile and watch nature’s show. Today, the show was spectacular.

As I sat, I laughed at the antics of the dolphins: dance routines, couple jumps, splashes that looked like pure fun. I admired the skill of the pelicans: their patient search and precise spray as they entered the water for the catch.

I stared into the horizon, hoping to see evidence of those enormous creatures that inhabit our coastline in the summer. I know they are there. But sometimes, I have to be satisfied with that knowledge, and not the sight of the blue and humpback whales.

This summer, I have seen a lot of them. They have been almost too close to the shore at times, almost dangerously close. Today they stayed in the hazy distance, treating me with occasional evidence of their seasonal trip. Like the human vacationers who come in droves, the whales come also each summer.

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look at the very left hand side for the last bit of spray from the whale’s spout (and the whale, of course)
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These two are so, so much larger than the photo shows!

While I sat, a three-ring circus entertained me, including a pod of dolphins, fishing pelicans and whales in the distance. On the way back home, I checked on the overly-full snake, but found it wasn’t blocking the path any longer. Today’s walk was filled with the wildlife I have seen all my life. Not a city-life walk, but a walk peopled with creatures that have been my walking companions for a long, long time.

 

 

Walking with Pelicans

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The return of the pelicans

To my knowledge, pelicans don’t walk much. But I love to walk alongside them as they fly, out above the waves. These sergeant-majors of the seas patrol our area, and they come out in force during springtime and stay all summer. I welcome their return with my walk today, and was fortunate that they were in a mood to entertain.

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On patrol

How can people say they are not beauties? Their over-sized beaks and broad wings reward them with a beautiful catch, over and over.

Watch for the splashes. My camera and I do not agree about push and click. By the time I pushed, the pelican was probably already diving, and by the time the camera took the shot, there was only splash. Two different times, with two competent pelicans. They tried to make it easy for me.

The second one stalled to let me gather my failing photographic skills. He is the one lifting off again after a successful catch, ready to scout the area for more.

Watch this magnificent dive. I love the way they search, spot and then set-up their dive. The final upside-down reverse puts them head first into the water. Amazing creatures.

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As I walk, I see some tag-a-longs. The gulls must have noticed the school of fish. They follow the skillful pelicans, landing nearby for a chance at left-overs.

The pelican entertainment today makes my walk a bit longer in time, not distance. But who can resist stopping and looking at these spectacular birds, to say nothing of the other sights along the way. Hope you have a great walk today.

 

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