Botanical Surprises

A doleful awakening on a foggy Sunday morning,  joints aching from the strain of lifting boxes of steel wires and forcing them into hard ground to hold Elect Jan Marx Mayor signs.  Looking forward to meditation for escape from the nattering in my head, then impatient for it to be over.  Not swimming enough because I wont use the Poly Rec Center in protest against that revolting expansion.

I wont let my alienation from the University–latest outrage disbanding the CSA– alienate me from Poly Land.  I’ve been wondering about the red blanket of vegetation on Poly Mountain since June.  Is it dried monkeyflower or buckwheat?

As soon as I slip into my West Coast Trail boots, my mood lightens and my legs urge me to get started, like the dog when he sees Jan lace her runners. I stride through the silent foggy streets, climb over the fence, and feel the spring of my footfalls through the grass.  The sensation of freedom in the question, which way to go? Feet find a trail of cracked soil showing through trampled grass pointing straight uphill.  Breathing muscles mobilized.  The absence of the forty-pound pack makes the steepening ascent effortless, and the mixture of tarweed and horsemanure pleasures my nostrils. The trail continues beyond the fence.  Two strands of barbed wire slack enough to allow me through.  The sun is a faint disk penetrating the fog, recalling its appearance at Klanawa River.

Perhaps I’ll go to the tree house and sit there and write.  I’ve done it before. The trail winds through the chapparal right to it.  A new resident?  Entering the secluded clearing under the great  oak, I see a  spade and a rake leaning against the twenty foot ladder that reaches the lowest branch.  Ten feet above the tree house a large improvised hammock hangs atop another ladder. As I stare I hear a sleepy “hello?” Not wanting to trespass, I say “Hi, my name’s Steven. I come here every few months.  Do you know E.C. the guy who built this house?”  “Yes, met him once,” answers a voice whose origin seems to be a pile of blankets in the hammock.  I ask if it’s OK to come up, and then mount the lower ladder. At the treehouse platform I see a mop of hair at the edge of the blankets above and try to build more trust.  Yes they know M, they’re his students.  I wrote in the guest ledger here on previous visits.  I climb the next ladder into the bedroom.  Two people snuggle under the blankets, K. and T.  They work with the same environmental organization I do.  I  built a hammock like that forty years ago for kids on our farm in B.C.

After fifteen minutes chat I descend the ladders and continue up the mountain,  serpentine boulders providing foot and handholds.  The fog  now just a ribbon draping Bishop Peak. The dark red scrub I’d been wondering about from the house and while approaching SLO on the freeway is neither monkeyflower nor buckwheat, but deerweed stalks, all the leaves and flowers gone. A huge exclusive patch, easy to walk through. Three years after the fire, it’s choked out all the poison oak.




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