Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Day Three: January 31, 2009
Route: From the Little Farm in Tilden Park, near Kensington, along Laurel Grove trail, taking left fork, to Peak Trail to Wildcat Peak through the Rotary Peace Grove, along Nimitz Way south to Inspiration Point.
Mileage: Three and a half miles progress on the walk, six miles for the whole loop.
Flora and Fauna: Bushtit, golden-crowned sparrow, sage, oceanspray, big leaf maple, poison oak and wild oat.
Logistics: A simple walk and return to the same spot, a loop, following down from the ridge along the Curran and Wildcat Gorge trail backs to the Little Farm and my car.
This walk was just a normal walk, one that I have done many times from the age of eight until the present. Mel Adamson, an old friend and co-mom-padre, accompanied me. Her friendship with me stretches back through our times raising our only-daughters from when they were under two. She is a painter and teacher of landscape, plein-air and domestic, with a penchant for clouds and dams. She is one of the most effortless walkers I know. It was a new model for me to have company on my walk. Mel had at one point hoped to be with me on the whole walk in celebration of her fiftieth birthday but it was not to be. After that disappointment I figured I would somehow be just walking alone, reminiscing at will, taking notes when winded with an excuse to rest frequently. Both of us were quite familiar with the day’s route, she had grown up in Berkeley unaware of my proximity in Kensington and yet our lives have followed similar paths and sensibilities. We would have a chance to catch up on each other’s lives on this day. I took no notes.
My memory though has a horde of impressions of this place. In general these hills are so familiar as to be difficult to describe–like trying to see your own face in that of your child’s. This is where, wordlessly and without study, my Nature Girl self came into life. Countless picnics, Easter egg hunts, birthdays, pony rides, merry-go-round rides, baseball games in Big Meadow – the human events – would falter long enough to allow forays into the poison oak for lost balls, trail hikes while boring adults prattled on around the picnic table, Wildcat creek explorations below Jewel Lake, attempts at making rafts, cave climbing behind the Merry Go Round when its child-charms grew less capable of producing excitement.
The increased independence of later elementary school provided hours of time in Tilden Park. I much preferred this long route home than the latchkey life I would have had. Importantly, I learned to be happily alone here. To lie in the grass with my eyes closed, listening, sometimes falling asleep. To attend long enough to bird calls to learn them. To crawl into shrubs to get the perspective of a rabbit. One of my favorite sounds is a prop plane flying overhead – a summer heat memory, a post-picnic, belly-full, lying prone in dried grass memory – a sound that evokes this place and that time without fail.
I could go on and on. Mel and I have discovered that we had a similar response to episodes of angst brought on by family problems, friend or boy problems etc. while growing up in this park-ringed East Bay. Both she and I would leave our houses and run and run and run until we dropped from pain or exhaustion. Later in life my coping skills have run more toward the kitchen cupboard or refrigerator, but Mel still runs, more sanely, for stress reduction. But for both of us, the green backdrop, whether on city streets lined with trees or here in the regional parks, offered reliable solace for most of what ailed us. I will declare here that I feel safest in nature. To me there is no more comforting or reassuring a sensation of peace and safety than that of breaking a spider web strung across a trail as you pass. That means you are alone, and all that is the world, that buzzes, that flies, that walks, is well.
We hike up lovely Laurel Canyon until it forks with a trail connecting to Wildcat Peak, where the Rotary had the audacity to build a circular platform of stone on its pinnacle. Intended, I suppose, to call attention to the Rotary Peace Grove on the flanks of the peak this mini-lithic monument was a key landmark for kid games, especially during the Tolkien-mad era, and was known by my brother’s gang as Weathertop. Behind it are the remnants of one of the old Nike Base beads in the nuclear necklace system that ringed the SF Bay. Giving off the stale air of an Egyptian tomb, kids would sneak down the steps to the metal-shuttered bays that had once held rockets that were readied to intercept incoming missiles from Russia. Though very familiar as a play stage to us I don’t believe I ever made the connection between our duck-and-cover drills at school and these vestiges of an early version of Star Wars defense.
We then joined the two-legged, two-wheeled, wheelchair and stroller highway that is the Nimitz Way. This paved, accessible former road to the Nike Base (and a small town that serviced it) is so popular on weekends as to seem utterly downtownish. If you have a place in your heart for people, lots of people, engaging in a local and outdoorsy nod to the concept of a true promenade, it can be quite an enjoyable multi-generational walk with spectacular views. We often would come here with my father-in-law in a wheelchair and treasured the opportunity to cover ground in such a beautiful viewshed.
Mel and I veered back down to the canyon floor, along Wildcat Gorge and its almost obscured view of the cave wall, and its glorious meld of rock, water and oak, past the Big Meadow playing field, and back to the Little Farm parking area.