The Most Important Walk

I am just back from several months of traveling around, busy-ness and not-writing about the wonderful walks in my life. I will be catching up with all the adventures you all have written on your blogs; but today, I am thinking about one particular walk – the most important one, in fact.

There are so many reasons to walk around, wherever you find yourself:

  • The (fresh) air: humid, cold, dry or hot, perhaps clean and dirty at the same time, smelling of the local mix of spice.
  • The feel of your feet against the ground: uneven surfaces, soft or hard, with painted lines to guide you or with pulverized dust unsettled at each step.
  • The sounds: machine or creature sounds, music from a change in weather or from a radio, sounds that tell you how many people are near by and what type of things accompany them as they live their lives.
  • The sights: giving you memories to call back sometime much later, views from every day or from a once-in-a-lifetime walk.
  • The sense of renewal: a time to put away your thoughts and just experience what you see, feel, smell and hear.

I am grateful to be able to walk in many places around the world. But I am most grateful to put my feet to the ground and walk out my front door. It’s a habit that helps me live a better life. Because that most important walk is the one we take every day, wherever we are.

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Walking the Plank

 

Shipwreck! Like a bold-font heading from the more excitable history books, full of swashbuckle, flashing swords, hook hands and bandanas, my friend Brian spoke the words. “A shipwreck in our own neighborhood, did you know?” His voice – adventurous, mischievous, pirate-like – made me reconsider the location for my usual afternoon walk. Instead of heading out to our nearby beach, I’d start-up the car and drive four miles north to the Estero Bluffs. Along the cliffside, I might walk into a fantastical relic of history. For it was there, several days past that a fishing boat went astray.

The long trail from the parking lot off Highway 1 to the bluffs has changed since my last visit. I remember sunshine, tall sparkling yarrow, cow’s parsnip and stout reeds of grass. Today’s view takes in a flattened and stick-filled landscape, surprisingly dry with the ocean so close.

Thin, empty reeds stretch up from the grasses, now brown and appearing as if Mother Nature has brought out a brush and combed the strands of pale ash blonde against the earth. The ocean hides. Even the sound of the waves lurks behind the stingy landscape. Today’s sun casts its warmth onto the unseen tops of the cloud cover. Gray sludge fills the sky. I strain toward the promise of warmth through the clouds, but there is little feeling at all. I walk in the absence of heat and of coolness. It’s almost a sense of suspended weather: not hot, not cold, not breezy, not still.

I walk the dry path, avoiding the long and deep crack of moisture-deprived soil and dodging the millions of snake holes. Where are the snakes? With so many holes, there has to be a population of snakes that this flattened grass and thin tall reeds cannot hide. In the earlier lush of spring, when creatures that wanted to hide were given their heart’s desire, I had stopped to watch a long, fat, dappled snake worm into its hole. But today, with an unaccommodating landscape, I see nothing that moves. Neither snakes, nor the friendlier ground squirrels, nor even any insects.

And then, suddenly, there is a boom from incoming ocean fronting an off-shore rock, the crash and crash again riff of the tide, and I step to the edge of the bluffs. The drop-off to the water is immediate, thirty feet or more. The earth gives way here and there, and I step back, remembering that me and quick drop-offs do not peacefully co-exist. There is a trail close to the edge and another a safe ten feet away. I choose the safer route, even with the possible companionship of snakes.

To the south, over the crest of a bluff, I see the very top of a fishing boat mast rocking in the tide. I have seen fishing boats before from this path, but to the west, plying their trade in the deep water, miniatures along the horizon. But this one leans against the cliff, bumping into land with each incoming wave. Too close. It shouldn’t be here and doesn’t belong. But there it is – the wrecked ship.

For twenty minutes I walk toward the site. I am losing Brian’s cheerfulness, and wish he was here to remind me why this was a good idea. Along the way, I pass a small feeding frenzy. Pelicans and cormorants and sea gulls lunch on the usual menu. A seal raises its head from a nap, looking sweet and innocent. And well-fed.

There are two people standing near the shipwreck, looking, but not approaching. For the entire time I walk toward the tragedy, they stand paying their respects. For, suddenly, that is how I see the whole situation. Not an event from long ago, nor a paragraph in a history text. But a tragedy in a neighbor’s life. I remember a simple texted comment made by someone after the newspaper article: How did this boat get where it is? And another comment in response: Poor Piloting. As sudden as the boom of wave against rock, I remember that life isn’t about simple answers. Too often even the best pilots are lost.

Against a backdrop of unruly fun and whimsy, I am brought back to life’s unrelenting rules. We all walk the plank of life. I feel I should erase the exclamation point I put on the end of someone else’s tragedy. Shipwreck.

Walking Port San Luis Pier

Golden arms of seaweed wave in the lazy current of San Luis Obispo Bay. The waters turn from opaque moss green to shining turquoise and several shades between as the clouds and the sun do their daily trick of minute-to-minute change. Warm up two degrees with the sun, cool down one degree with the clouds. A bit of breeze refreshes us walkers for two minutes, then eases off to let the sun dominate.

I am walking the Port San Luis Pier. It’s a good thing that the distance is short. Today, the calm of the weather, the pleasant warm-and-cool feel of the air, the fresh of the breeze and the slow bake of the sun, all blend to make me lethargic. Shouldn’t every day be like this? Wait. This is the Central California Coast. Each day *is* like this.

Such weather might persuade residents to feel entitled to every-day perfection. All we ever get here is the push-pull of 65 degrees F against 70 degrees F. What did we do to deserve this weather bliss? Nothing. It is ours not because we are clever people or thoughtful or smart. All we did was manage to live here, in weathered perfection.

Summer heat from other places drives people away from their homes. Carloads and van-fulls and buses bring vacationers by the hundreds daily to this pier. Even though I am not from those places of hottest summertimes any longer, I join in with the crowd today, stay-cationing 40 minutes from my home. We visitors walk and bike down the pier and kayak around the pier supports. We stop by the dozens, leaning against the guardrails, to enjoy the sprayed water of a pelican landing, and the splash of a seal diving from a platform into the light-hearted waves.

A sea lion wakes up, disturbed by the seal’s dive or by the plunking down of another sea lion right on top of the first. The yelp is loud and we humans hear the complaint of the sound and we empathize with the sea lion. Who wants to be woken up in the middle of a nice summer’s sleep, interrupting the soothing mist and warm sun? A clamour sets up and a domino of sea lion voices rolls up and down the platform. We vacationers laugh and remark that the sea lions are not so different from us.

A fishing boat whose home port is where I live, just north up the coast, pulls away from the pier. Too late, I wonder what kind of fish they have sold to the fish markets here. The boat looks old, but tidy. I mourn the lost adventure of watching the catch lifted onto the pier, and the skill of how that is done. But, I am still in a haze of laziness, and glad that I didn’t have to expend even the energy to watch such a demanding physical task.

The seal that had dived into the water swims alongside the fishing boat, arching up from the waves, watching for handouts. When no leftover fish is thrown overboard, the seal jumps completely out of the water, perhaps a last-ditch effort to beg a scrap. The boat moves away, appearing to be in that slow-moving summer haze that has infected us all, except the graceful and fast-moving seal in its artful act of begging.

The wood of the pier itself is a million connected heavy pieces of timber that look like they could withstand long bouts of inclement weather, unlike any they will ever encounter here. My steps are soundless on the enormous planks and I feel nothing that tells the pier of my presence. No rocking, no vibration. So many people walk this pier every day, my footstep has no impact – there will be nothing left for the pier to remember me by.

Individuals and whole family groups gather to fish off the side of the pier. I am tempted to stay and watch, soothed by the contemplative non-activity of fishing. I have always thought of fishing as a philosophical pursuit, maybe because I so rarely wait around to see the catch.

As I come to the end of my walk, returning to the point where the wharf embraces the shoreline, I see a cage where fishers who have been successful come to clean and store away their catch. Not knowing one fish from another, I hear someone say ‘rock cod’ and another wonder if the ‘ocean perch’ are biting. As we walk by a fish-and-chip restaurant a wonderful aroma comes out to tempt us, and – if I wasn’t so lulled by the weather – I might spend a moment pondering a fish’s existence.

But mine today is spent in bliss: one small walk in perfect weather along a pier that takes my footsteps as if they were nothing at all.

 

Please join the Monday Walk with RestlessJo and friends:

Jo’s Monday walk

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.

Please join the Monday Walk with RestlessJo and friends:

Jo’s Monday walk

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

 

Join the Monday Walk with RestlessJo and friends:

Jo’s Monday walk

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 Oslo, Norway

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Some of you may remember that I, a girl born and raised in California, spent a year in Ukraine. It is a lovely country with wonderful people, but it is cold in winter, and winter is very long. It’s the kind of cold that Californians like me simply do not understand and seldom can tolerate. I certainly had my fill of cold after one year and was quite happy to go home.  And now, I visit Oslo.

It is often cold in Oslo, and was during our visit. One thing that surprised me about this city was the abundance of nude statues. I’d heard of the very famous ones in The Vigeland Park.

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Circle of friends
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The Monolith

But others were in evidence all around the city. Every time I saw a nude statue, I thought, “Burrr. Someone put a coat on them. A scarf. Mittens. A cap with ear flaps.”

There is something about cold climates that make me very one-minded. I was glad to see the many sights of Oslo. The downtown square is beautiful and the walk to the park is invigorating. There are nice places to shop. I bought fleece-lined slippers.

There are many lovely neighborhoods,

and walking streets to enjoy, as long as you have the proper outer wear.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that as happy as I was to be in Oslo, I was just a bit happier when we left.

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This is me in Oslo. Do you see the ear muffs? I wore triple layers everywhere. The hood went right back over my head after the photo. Next up, St. Petersburg.

The passage to Oslo, Norway

img_3414So, all I did on this part of the journey was walk around the ship.

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But what a beautiful walk it was.

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Many ships were tagging along, as ours was following others ahead. A popular route into Oslo, no doubt.

I spent hours on the deck, as the ship slowly passed the sheltered bays and the isolated towns.

Buildings along the seaway varied from quite old to colorful to ultra-modern.

Some towns were accessible only by water craft. Others were linked to Oslo by a long winding highway. On a busy trip with a packed itinerary, it was pleasant to just sit and watch the peacefulness pass by.

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Next up, Oslo Norway. Put your coat on now.

 

Walking Copenhagen, Denmark

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Not Copenhagen

You’ll simply have to take my word for it. I visited, twice. I walked and enjoyed. But what memories I have will stay in my head, for the phone that captured the memories crashed and shattered.

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Also Not Copenhagen

What happens when the things you plan for don’t happen? If you are lucky enough to have only a broken phone with lost photos, you rejoice and travel on. For now, I would like to refer you to Anita’s wonderful post on Copenhagen. If you haven’t yet read it, you should!

A Hop-On, Hop-Off Boat: Cruising the Canals of Copenhagen