February, 2008 Archive

Irish Hills Hike

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

I found the listing on the ECOSLO bulletin: Irish Hills Docent-Led Hike. A good location to see early flowers, and Jody a congenial leader. As directed, Jan and I drove to the end of Madonna Road and parked in the new subdivision bordering Costco and the Open Space. The houses are large and densely situated on the flat valley floor, stark, typical sprawl bedroom neighborhood, but promising a different atmosphere once the trees have grown enough to provide something of an urban forest. Jan noted that the park with basketball courts and baseball field that can be used by the residents of the  projects across the street were required of the developer, Marshall, while she sat on the City Council. So was the preservation of the old farmhouse at the trailhead, which was sold to a private party who could only renovate and expand it in such a way as to preserve the look of the original building.

It was one of those mild spring mornings with a touch of cool brought on by the slight sea mist especially welcome as the group of about ten people mounted the winding trail. The perennial bunch grass was bright green, and several lilies were coming into leaf. The first bloom a white flower I cant identify.

Ascending the serpentine ridge, we gained larger views of the Los Osos Valley, shopping centers and new subdivisions creeping over the fields and hills in every direction.

But a large green patch in the middle of the sprawl remained where the decades-long struggle over the Dalidio property has left the land fertile and fallow. Adjoining it, is the “Gap” property situated along Prefumo Creek between automobile dealerships and the South Laguna residential neighborhood. This was the parcel before the planning commission last Thursday night that Citizens for Planning Responsibly urged be developed in accordance with the General Plan. Jan wrote a long and expert treatise that formed the basis of all the testimony and for which the Commissioners expressed gratitude, since the City Staff had not done the job.

Jody stopped on the way up at several places to fill us in on some of the details of procurement of the 700 acre patch of open space that serves as one part of the city’s future greenbelt. The Madonna family, which owned vast acreage both of the hill property and the fertile alluvial plain down below were required to deed some of it to Open Space in return for permission to develop their huge shopping center. The same was true of the developer who built the neighborhood we passed through, as well as of the owners of the adjoining Foster property, who ended up developing only two lots on their more than 200 acre parcel.

At the shoulder of the ridge, the trail levelled and headed west parallel to Froom creek below. As civilization disappeared behind us, its sounds were replaced by the rush of water. Ahead and up the creek the only sign of human impact was the gash of the road gouged in the canyon by the property owner, the late Alex Madonna, master of the D9 Caterpillar bulldozer, whose ostentatious signature is inscribed on mountainsides in every direction. Above the opposite bank rose a high wall of impenetrable looking scrub oak woodland. The trail was bordered by the first bloom of Ceanothus cuneatus, light purple, odiferous, exuberant.

We continued down into the canyon along a branch of Madonna’s road that the city along with conservation organizations has tried unsuccessfully to restore. The disfigured walls were neverthess beautiful in baring the browns, greens and whites of weathering serpentine. The surface of the road was carpeted by a strange red plant, apparantely chlorophil free, which I havent yet identified.

Walking upstream along the creek, we found the first California poppies of the season, dazzling two-toned goblets of orange and white with red tipped leaves and buds.

Further along we came upon a tributary creek surrounded by the leaves of rare and endemic local native, the San Luis Obispo bog thistle.

Following the tributary to some its sources, I discovered water seeping straight out of the porous serpentine rock.

After a snack break in the shade of oaks and bay laurels along the rushing creek, we headed back up to the ridge, passing banks of bush poppies whose leaves were dried but whose blooms shared in the festivity of an early California Spring.

Thoreau’s “Prayer” and my Imitation

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Great God, I ask for no meaner pelf
Than that I may not disappoint myself,
That in my action I may soar as high
As I can now discern with this clear eye.

And next in value, which thy kindness lends,
That I may greatly disappoint my friends,
Howe’er they think or hope that it may be,
They may not dream how thou’st distinguished me.

That my weak hand may equal my firm faith
And my life practice what my tongue saith
That my low conduct may not show
Nor my relenting lines
That I thy purpose did not know
Or overrated thy designs.


Universal spirit, O hear my urgent plea
For nothing less or more than plain integrity
That I may carry out in deed what in my mind I know
Is true but never comfortable, and find new ways to grow.

And if it is required to abandon obligation
And spend more solitary time in quiet contemplation
Then give me strength and confidence to follow my own light
And cut loose from the need to be approved in others’ sight.

Please let me saunter off with you, really walk the walk
Instead of giving yet another classroom Thoreau talk.
Let it not be that making do will win out finally,
That I cant find a way to write and testify,
That what was learned so long ago stays merely memory
Some idealist delusion better left to die.

Bees in the Blossoms

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Woke up this morning feeling rested, relaxed and healthy”first time since the new year. Went for a swim, after which I felt exuberant. At 1 p.m. I took a break from grading papers to fill the bird feeder and discovered it was clear, breezy and warm outside. After I added a scoop of sunflower seeds, the red-headed finches twittered their gratitude from the surrounding cover. I walked up the steps to the blooming volunteer almond tree, the first sign of spring. Coming close, I was enfolded by its shimmer and fragrance. Honey not tasted but inhaled, its sweetness pouring through nasal passages up into sinuses behind my eyes.

What a day for bees, I thought, and immediately was surrounded by dozens of them flitting and hovering, trembling in the wind along with the blossoms and new leaves, apparently oblivious of my presence. The breeze died down and the fragrance ramped up. Up close I watched the bees nuzzle and grope and hump the tiny golden stamens at the center of each blossom. Vibrating with excitement, released from the pull of gravity, they rode a wave of pleasure in taste and smell.

I was transported with them for a moment. Then I tried to observe. A single blossom held an inexhaustible supply of delight. One after another bee entered its bower of warmth and brightness, took its harvest, and was replaced and sometimes bumped out of the way by a new visitor.

I tried to track an individual bee, noticing how it used two or three or four hands to grasp whatever it gathered on the top of those stamens and shove it greedily into its mouth. It moved to another blossom, dove in, turned on its back, curled its abdomen around the group of stamens and rubbed furiously against them with its belly.

At most ten seconds on any one flower. But, why move on when there’s plenty left? Why approach another flower and then back off, or touch down on a third and depart without entering? What determined its preference? I couldn’t track a single bee for more than a minute before it sped out of my narrow focus.

more bee pics

Up High

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

I sit twenty five feet up in the branches of the great live oak, on the deck of the tree house. Inside is drenched by rain that’s fallen through a gash in the roof. I’m enjoying a break in the weather that probably wont last long enough to finish writing this entry. The hike up was easier than expected, aided by two new gaps in the fence and enough fresh grass to allow evasion of the worst mud.

I’ve moved indoors. The intact half of the roof keeps the drops that penetrate the canopy from blotting my words. What do we need for shelter? This makes the cabin at Walden a McMansion by comparison. No lake, but the occasional stream flows within view, down the middle of a gully covering the underground watercourse that allows this tree to grow so large. The lichen coating its elephantine limbs now is bright green. The slope that tilts almost to vertical just above the uphill edge of the canopy bursts with new vegetation, hastening to stabilize and clothe itself before it’s undermined from below by slumpage or eroded from above by runoff.

On the way here I noticed water sheeting off driveways and pouring out of drainage pipes embedded in the sidewalk, gathering in the gutters and racing down the gentle slope of the street. All that water from these tiny municipal lots, looking for a place to go because it cant soak into the ground or find its natural channels. Further along the flow increases and suddenly disappears with a roar. Tucked under the lip of the sidewalk a grated storm sewer opening three concrete squares wide. This is where the stream draining the whole valley between Poly Mountain and our Alta Vista hill must once have run, starting at the top near the Admin building, going by the site of the PAC, under the track and practise field, down to Palm Street, then California, then Monterey then Santa Rosa, before emptying into San Luis Creek.

Beyond the sewer opening, the water flowed toward me, a thick foam-edged meander crossing Grand Ave. next to the parking kiosk.

Its been raining for weeks. The one sunny day I remember since the funeral in Paso Robles was Thursday the 31st: Focus the Nation Day. May it be remembered as a historic one.

Focus the Nation Cal Poly slideshow