The forest portion of the hike was exactly what I had needed:
I'm not John Steinbeck and Tucker is certainly no Charley. But after our first year together travelling over 14,000 miles, criss-crossing America, hitting 17 states, I thought it was about time we started documenting our adventures.
Only thirteen miles from where the Pacific Ocean crashes upon the shores and cliffs of California, there is a hidden lake high in the Santa Cruz Mountains named Loch Lomond. Little-known and only accessible March 1st through Labor Day, it keeps true to its Irish nomenclature with its misty atmosphere and deep green surroundings. On the day Tucker and I visited, we can’t say so much that it was raining, but more that we were walking through a raincloud that had dipped below the mountains’ peaks. It seemed the perfect hiding place for a sea monster.
We took the advice of some hikers in AllTrails and began with the forest portion of the hike, and then looped around to the lake to try to spot an ancient denizen.
The forest portion of the hike was exactly what I had needed:
It was difficult to spot anything in the lake—even a dinosaur—with how murky it was up close. I was surprised to see some brave folks fishing in it. A few people were in boats, headed to the island in the middle of the lake.
From the lakeshore itself, it was simply a lake in the woods: serene in quiet to most; the inspiration for camp horror movies to others; and for others still the place of legends and mythical transpirations.
But from high atop the trail, the lake was a stunning beauty—even under the cover of clouds—a reflective glass in the valley between the peaks.
That’s the thing about hiking—and life: it’s all about perspective. The world doesn’t change; we do. We walk a little further down the trail and we see things we hadn’t before. On out-and-back trails, even though our feet tread the same soil, we experience a whole new view facing the opposite direction on the way back.
Just last weekend, Tucker and I were traipsing over boulders at a beach and now here we were deep in the mountains at a lake. Yet both times, we were hiking in Northern California. Labels and boundaries aren’t natural elements. It is us as humans who set boundaries—on land and for ourselves. We delineate one space from another using names; one time from another with age. We separate ourselves from our experiences and others. Hiking takes away those boundaries. From ocean to mountaintop, it is all one world—one world that is constant in its diversity and uniqueness. As we walk through it, it is not the world that changes, but us and our perspective. From every vantage point, there is something to learn and experience. We just need to be open to it.
Having spent most weekends in a northern exploration, I felt it was about time we headed south. I had heard that Monterey was a very dog-friendly destination, and only one hundred miles south of the city. So on one of our final Fridays off, Tucker and I drove past Santa Cruz and continued down the California coast.
I had picked Monterrey Peninsula Recreational Trail from Alltrails as our destination hike. It wasn’t until I drove past the city limits of Monterey that I realized that we wouldn’t be in Monterey the city, but in Monterey the county… in a town called Pacific Grove.
Much like our Santa Cruz Christmas, the hike was more of a leisurely seaside town sidewalk stroll than an actual woodland adventure. Tucker didn’t seem to mind.
His pleasure is in the scents that drift from the ocean and carry over the sand.
And of course the climbing. He loves the climbing.
The rocky beaches were other-worldly.
The beaches weren’t just sand and rocks. They were broken shells—homes of animals who once lived here.
Tucker and I sat on one of the rocky outcroppings to take in the ocean air and enjoy the view.
When people ask me why I freelance and travel for work and why I don’t want to settle down, this is why.
The new places we get to explore, the different lives we get to witness and sometimes be a part of. I have a permanent residency in a state in a country as is required by societal norms. But I really live here, on this planet. The whole world is my home. Sometimes I enjoy sitting on the front stoop, other times I like to enjoy the view from the back deck, but more often than not, I want to pack my bags and go adventuring on the back forty. Sometimes I find a woodland kingdom, other times, a mountain top, and still others, an ocean that goes to the horizon and beyond.
Rather than venture north over the bridge this weekend, we opted for a shorter commute down to Mori Point in Pacifica. At just under three miles, the loop took us up onto the hills overlooking the township to the north and the wilds to the south. Looking more for the wilds than the town, we seldom looked northward.
The trail wound its way along the cliff, overlooking the ocean.
For you Harold and Maude fans, Tucker and I got this view of the cliff in the ending sequence along the trail:
It really hasn’t changed much since it was captured on 35mm half a century ago:
I am always astonished at how far from civilization you can feel in the bay area while only being a mile or two away (look very closely in the upper right.)
Long ago people banded together to protect the wild spaces within and around the city. It is what makes the area so special: not just that the land is protected, but that its residents care so much about the place they call home. Tucker thanks them immensely.
It’s not just the land, but the sea and sky that lend itself to the full beautiful picture.
As we headed south, the trail became rockier, feeling more like an ancient burial site than the lush grassy fields only a few hundred yards northward.
And perhaps that is why people make mediation circles here. There is a spirit in the sky and land.
It why I love this place so much: although I may be forced to live within civilized urban society, it is a society that respects and loves Mother Earth. The inhabitants are like me: we have a need for our feet to tread soil, our nose to take in the salt sea breeze, and our eyes to watch the sun set over the infinite ocean.
Since Tucker and I missed out on an actual beach on our last adventure, we decided to spend a few hours, and about seven miles walking, on another one: at Point Reyes.
Tucker seemed pretty happy to be there.
There was plenty to climb on.
And even a stick to chew on.
From beach to bluff, there was plenty to sniff.
We had the entire beach ourselves. Or so we thought. As we took a break, resting and taking in the ocean air, I looked over and thought, “Huh, that rock sure looks like a giant seal. Weird.”
A few minutes later, when we resumed walking and went by it, I realized the large lump on the beach was indeed an actual elephant seal!
It sneezed and wipes its eyes. Finding another human on the bluff trail, I asked, “Is that seal okay? Does it need help?” thinking it was beached. To which he responded, “No, they just hang out up here and sunbathe. She’s fine.” That would explain this notice in the parking lot:
Tucker and I continued down the empty beach, occasionally climbing up onto the bluff and back down again, when it finally became clear that Tucker was indeed all tuckered out.
I let him rest some, and since he was content not to get to the overlook, I accepted this as the end of his trail.
After he rested and I took in the saltwater air and beauty of the solitude and ocean, we headed back toward our trusty steed, almost three miles away.
From atop the bluff on our way back, Tucker smelled his kindred spirit, and suggested that he keep her company for a spell.
Although he wanted to be closer, I decided this distance was much safer. I’m used to living with a being who doesn’t know the sheer force of his weight and damage he could potentially do with it; I didn’t need him to meet his match.
And so Tucker lie as next to her as I allowed, shadowing her position. I hope the two of them communicated in some way, perhaps on a dreamlike plane of existence, where they shared their stories as they dozed in the warmth of the sun, listening to the waves crash upon the shore.
I discovered that the bluff trails were easier on Tucker as he was exhausted from walking in the sand, so I awoke my sleepy kid and we went back up on the hill, making our way back to the parking lot.
There was still plenty to enjoy, as the ocean's scents and stories carried on the wind.
We didn’t get to the lighthouse on this trek, but it was my first time ever experiencing an elephant seal this up close and personal. I imagine it was the same for Tucker (although he hasn’t been forthcoming with his adventures prior to meeting me so I could be wrong.)
I say Tucker is a beach dog as he enjoys it, but really what he loves is the scents and sounds of the ocean more than the beach itself. He needn’t run through the waves as other dogs do, or race headlong across the sandy beach. But to lie and listen to the sounds of the sea is pure bliss. I couldn’t agree more.
Pirate’s Cove was the first hike I bookmarked when I preparing for our San Francisco gig. A 3.6 mile hike along the cliffs at Muir Beach, it is a part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area—one of the most dog friendly of the federal lands. And then the government shut down the federal lands over a disagreement on budgets. Although Mother Nature never truly “closes,” roads can be blocked and chained off and parking lots closed. With an hour’s drive to get there, I wasn’t going to risk being turned away.
That hour’s drive took us over the Golden Gate bridge and out from under the clouds that had covered the city for much of the week. It’s been said of New England, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” Here is the Bay Area, “If you don’t like the weather, just go about mile in any direction. It might not be better, but it’ll be different.”
And so it was on Superbowl Sunday. As we crested the meadows outside of Muir Forest and drove down the switchbacks to Muir Beach, the grey clouds parted and sunshine lit up the landscape. The parking lot was mostly empty. The town to the north was just a few streets, huddled up to the seaside, its nearest neighboring town many miles away over hill and dale. It made wonder if people who first settled here came from the inner regions and found it so beautiful, they chose not to return, or if they came from the sea and decided there couldn’t possibly be anywhere better to live than here.
Tucker and I crossed the bridge and headed along the dirt path that ran alongside the beach. There were a few families playing the in sand and chasing waves, but it was no southern California beach party. The beach here is more Oregonian (if just a word can exist.) The dramatic rocks, the cold, harsh waves: it’s not a beach you lie in the sun and catch some waves; it’s the kind of beach you sit and admire the awe and power of nature.
The trail to Pirate’s Cove was clocked at only 3.6 miles, so I suspected this to be a two hour hikes tops. I was wrong. We did walk along the well-marked trail, but we couldn’t just walk. I felt a visceral need to simply stand and look out at the water and land, the crashing waves, the curves of the bluffs: to stand in awe of nature.
I didn’t even reach for a camera each time. I just let it all wash over me, let the wind bustle through me. Off in the distant, I spied Colt Tower—all the way in San Francisco, worlds away from this magical place by the sea.
The trail wound around the side of the puffy pillows of land, and eventually led to the final descent. There are few times I have turned around during a hike. Like Tucker, I am goal-oriented. Or perhaps, it is Tucker’s need to push every boundary that leads him to not stop until he has reached the end of the trail. But here, 350 feet from the promised land, I had to turn away.
Dog on leash plus skull & crossbones pictures doesn’t fair well. Looking down at the trail, it was more mountain erosion than an actual trail. The mud and muck with boulders and rocks combined: I knew I couldn’t get down it and back up it safely later, even without a dog at the end of a leash. Perhaps had we come at a more drier time of the season it would have been doable. But for now, I had to content myself with all the experiences I had already had.
Certainly it was not a waste. The hike was a beautiful walk along the sea. The waves crashing upon the rocks and the birds riding the winds above were magical to see. I wish we had been able to go those last few feet, but I had to consider safety over everything else.
And so we turned around, Tucker accepting that this, not the beach, was the trail’s natural end for us. We started the trek back up and over the meadows, looking northward to all the potential of the open ocean.
The skies above the hills showed us we need not make a dangerous descent in order to experience beauty:
Pirate’s Cove was just the name of the trail, not the destination. For the journey is always the destination, and we arrive the moment we put one foot in front of the other.
The Peninsula is my haven: the redwood groves along the mountain ridge, the crashing waves on the cliff’s edge, the fog that rolls in, sweeping over bluffs and along the mountains. There is a peace in the ancientness, the sound of the water and the smell of earth and trees.
Unfortunately, most of the Open Space Preserves on the Peninsula are dog-free zones. Tucker and I can walk along Skyline Blvd on the “sidewalk” of foliage, but not within the vast expanses of redwood forest that are protected on either side of the highway. In my search to find a forest for Tucker and I to be in, I came across Thornewood—one I had not noticed before. The main entrance was near Skyline and LaHonda, with the trail trickling down the mountain to Woodside’s less inhabited areas. I’m not a fan of starting a hike at the top; I like to get the hard stuff out of the way, reach the pinnacle, and then have a relaxing journey down, so it didn’t seem like the perfect hike… until I found the back door.
At the bottom of the trail in Thornewood was another parking lot. The little dirt patch that looked like a turn-out for slow vehicles going up the winding mountain road was actually a place to rest my steed at the trailhead.
Exiting the vehicle, I took in the scent that brings me home: the redwood forest. The sound of water over rocks could be heard, a kind of atmospheric music to add auditory joy to the already visually stunning experience. Stepping into the forest is like stepping back in time. The soil and fallen leaves give just a little under your feet, adding a softness and warmth to every footfall. The colors green and brown radiate from all around, almost filling the air. Bits of fog still remain, and you unwittingly inhale them with each breath.
We crossed the bridge that carried us dryly over the stream and started our vertical climb through the forest.
Each switchback gave us a new perspective on our surroundings. Walking through a preserve like this I am in awe not just of nature, but of the people who care for and tend to it. There are no words for the beauty when you walk such a trail:
We rose through the grove, still never quite reaching the heights of the redwoods themselves.
Out from under the cozy embrace of the forest, we could see for miles. Hills and farmlands went all the way to the horizon.
We went to the main entrance, the one that was at the top of the hill, and I was thankful I decided on taking the opposite route back. The sweeping vistas are a sight to behold, but it is not the way to end a hike for us. After looking out across the trees, I can't just walk back to my truck and drive away; I must walk through the woods, let the images settle in while I walk, simmering in my soul and branding into my heart as we make our way back down the mountain.
Although I prefer solitude on our hikes—the forest, my dog, and me—the few people we came across felt the same and so we bonded in that way misfits and outcasts do: we let our dogs do the talking. One little black and white Staffie girl wanted to run Tucker around in circles on the trail. I let Tucker’s leash go for a brief moment of trust so he could chase her back. I couldn’t let him be teased by a girl. She had excellent recall and for the few moments of joy, I hoped he would follow her should they go too far off trail. Between her two people and me, the three of us proved to be enough obstacles to dodge in their play as they ran up and down the switchback trail. When our dogs were thoroughly worn out, we both leashed back up and headed in opposite directions with a smile and a wave.
The forest is a magical place: this cathedral ceiling of life above, dancing in the sunlight, the smell of earth and timelessness that radiates from below, the babbling brook that provides music. Around each switchback is a new vista to behold and perhaps even other forest friends to meet. We speak of soulmates as those individuals we connect to deeply and more profoundly than can be put into words. While many people feel the same about dogs, speaking of their “heart dog,” I prefer the same terminology: Tucker is my souldog. And now I discovered one more connection: the soulspace. Like a soulmate, the soulspace is where your heart is truly at peace. It feels as if you were born of the soil, and the air you breathe there rejuvenates not just your body but your soul. When you stand in your soulspace, the air wraps itself around you in a loving embrace. While our life paths will take us many places, it is the soulspace we hold within us that we share with the world, and it is the soulspace we will always return to.
Tucker and I wish for each of you to find your soulspace--that place where your heart is at peace and you feel that connection to self, and earth, and the universe both in the heavens and within you. If you've been lucky enough to find your souldog, let him lead: he knows exactly where it is.
Four score and seven year ago…
No wait, that’s not it.
It was only one score ago that I first walked the streets of San Francisco, visiting a friend before heading south to start my Los Angeles life. Seven years ago, as I had hoped from that first day in 1998 in San Francisco, I finally got a gig here. During the day, I sat at my desk and looked out the window that faced the Bay. At night, I drove up 92 and across Skyline Blvd to a guest house in the redwood forest. I spent my weekends hiking the woods along Skyline and every other place north and south of the city. The seven months I lived here engrained in me what I knew my whole life: I belong here.
The movie that brought me here was Chasing Mavericks. I new nothing of surfing and had no desire to take up the sport. However, what I learned on that film has given me a deep respect for those who surf, as I realize that surfing for them is what hiking is to me: it’s a connection to the planet, to life, to all existence. I feel that when my feet tread forest floors; they feel it when they ride that wave.
In all those seven months, and even all the times I’ve come to visit since then, I’ve never hiked the bluffs above the beach the movie is named for—the premiere surfing spot Mavericks Beach. I felt it was about time to do so, especially with Tucker by my side. Starting across from Half Moon Bay airport, the trail takes you up and through Pillar Point Bluff, up to Pillar Point, and down to Mavericks Beach in a little over 5 miles round trip.
The trails looped around on the bluff, and before heading toward the open waters, we travelled inland, where the clouds hung low on the tops of the mountains peaks.
Upon seeing the ocean, that brilliant Tucker smile appeared.
Out in the distance, that golf ball shaped thing (apparently radars for the US military), is Pillar Point.
Tucker was allowed along the cliff’s edge, but down below the beaches were off limit to him. It wasn’t until we reached Mavericks Beach that Tucker could climb up onto the rocks in the harbor.
He even ventured far enough to get his feet wet.
But of course he had to if he wanted to enjoy the natural agility course--and he's never been one to turn down a chance to climb on anything.
There were no surfers out that I could spot, but there were birds aplenty out on the rocks and people with dogs running about the beach and rocks at low tide.
Tucker enjoyed the experience so much, he decided to act as greeter for a short spell to those who walked up the trail from the parking lot.
Although I am not a surfer, I feel a connection to Mavericks for what the film was for me. It was during that shoot that I found where my heart belongs; I envisioned exactly what I wanted in a house if I couldn't live here now; I found that house in Burbank and the job provided what I needed to buy it; and most importantly, because of all that, my life was set up so when I met Tucker a year later, there was nothing stopping me from adopting him.
Mavericks, then, is responsible for not only letting me find and experience my soul space--that place where my heart soars and my soul is at peace--but also for blazing the trail to my soul dog.
While surfers love Mavericks for the giant waves that challenge their skill and give them the ride of their life, I love Mavericks for the wave it produced in my own life. I'm still riding it, and loving every second of it.
When I envision Christmas, I think of New England. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and Holiday Inn (two similar plots which get mixed up in my memory) are the epitome of winter. In real life, there’s sledding and snowball fights and hot chocolate while your snowsuit dries by the fire. That’s my childhood version of Christmas.
As a travelling freelancer, my adult version of Christmas differs quite a bit from my New England upbringing. And yet the spirit remains the same. The feeling isn’t carried down from the heavens on snowflakes; it comes from within us as we experience and celebrate the light returning to the earth: The Winter Solstice.
While others bundle up Christmas Eve and head out to their parishes for communion, sermons, and singing, I go to bed early to be awake for my Christmas morning church service. It is not in a manmade cathedral, but rather out in the woods, under the towering redwoods and along the bluffs, overlooking the vast and powerful ocean. My church has no walls, and its ceiling is the sky above.
This year, with the national parks being closed or unattended, I chose county parks and beaches as my church. The highways around San Francisco were clear on Christmas morning, so it was a short drive down the coast to Santa Cruz. Greyhound Rock was to be the ultimate destination, but because high tide was noonish, I chose to delay our travels to later in the afternoon and explore Santa Cruz from Moran Lake to Pleasure Point.
Starting in a neighborhood of seaside town bungalows, we took a dirt path between residences and around what was supposed to be a lake. It appeared to be more of an ambitious pond, rather than a lake. Here is where I realize that New England has an entirely different criteria for “lake” than California does.
The lake/pond ended at the road that cut across and above it. On the other side was a plot of beach, no bigger than my Burbank front lawn.Our feet hit sand and Tucker sniffed the rocks and seaweed that had come up on shore. It was before noon, but the tide was clearly rising, evidenced by the water lines that were almost to the road.
Tucker climbed up on some rock outcroppings on the edge of the beach, looking out over his domain. The leash being short (since we were near the road, he wasn’t allowed his usual extra few feet of freedom), I had to join him or he’d be pulled down off his perch. I put one foot upon the nearest rock, and instantly discovered it was not yet quite rock but still in its sand phase of existence. My foot fell through, crumbling the sandpile and my balance. I fell backwards, just as the tide roared up on shore and ran under me, soaking my feet, pants and butt. My backpack had broken my fall, so at least my shoulders hadn’t gotten drenched.
I righted myself quickly, feeling the salt water slide into my back pocket where my phone was. I grabbed my phone, and immediately silently praised Otterbox for its impenetrable case. I still took my phone out of the case just to make sure there wasn’t any trapped water, and found it to be perfectly dry. I checked my backpack—my paper journal had also been spared. It was 10am on Christmas morning, and although I stood on the side of the road with wet and sandy jeans, my socks full of water, soaked underwear, I was overwhelmed with thanks that my words and my digital map/camera/communication device were all in working order.
Tucker and I carried on along the streets, and I was first surprised at how many people were out and about. Then I realized I’m in a place with like-minded people, so why wouldn’t they all want to spend the day as I did? More surprisingly, not only did no one who actually witnessed me take my fall at the beach say a thing to me, but no one gave me funny looks or said a word to the inexplicable wet woman with a pitbull as she walked along the sidewalk toward Pleasure Point. I suppose in a surf town, you’re just used to seeing damp people wandering about.
The sidewalks were full of families and couples and individuals. There were dogs aplenty with their human companions. Out in the ocean, surfers waited patiently to catch the perfect wave (see black dots behind Tucker.)
Tucker seemed as happy as I did to be out and about on this adventure.
I hadn’t expected it to be so populated, nor so civilized. From the map, I expected open land, not a sidewalk around the cliffside with homes on the other side of the street. But that’s okay—we’d get our serene moments later on at the beach. This was our fellowship time.
“Oh my god, he looks like Lily,” I heard a woman say as she walked toward us with a man, a child, and a very happy, tail-wagging brown dog about Tucker’s size. “We recently lost our Lily and she was a brindle just like him, “ she said to me. “He’s been really sad since she passed away. We all have.” Her pup was all wags, and I imagine Tucker was hearing tales of Lily as well. “They were best friends. I wish I had my phone so you could see a picture.”
We all spoke for a short while, she telling me stories of Lily, and I answering questions about Tucker. Our canine companions finished up their conversation as we did, and as they walked away I thought about those little signs we get from the universe. Coincidences maybe. Or maybe we attribute meaning to things that aren’t there. But maybe, just maybe, they are indeed messages. As my thoughts came together about the eternity of the soul and relationship to the physical world, a black and tan dachshund walked toward me with her person at the end of the leash. I almost laughed out loud. If that little doxie was a nod from Dutchess then perhaps Lily had somehow arranged for Tucker to come across her beloved family this morning. While we look for signs in the universe, we might very well be the signs others are waiting for.
With cheer in my heart, I stopped for Tucker to enjoy a little story time along the beachfront where someone had set up this adorable scene.
The sound of jingle bells—actual jingle bells, not the song—made me to turn toward the street. There I witnessed the equivalent of New England’s Norman Rockwell Christmas, California style:
In the empty road, a lean black dog in a red and a white sweater, donning sleighbells around his neck, raced down the street on a ten foot leash, his twenty-something human guardian on a skateboard sailing behind.
Now that is the quintessential Santa Cruz Christmas.
Knowing we could never top that, Tucker and I headed back to my trusty steed where we loaded up and headed to our more private portion of our church service: Greyhound Rock.
From the highway, it was rather unassuming: just a parking lot sparsely populated. Indeed this would be the quieter part of our day.
Once parked, looking over the cliff, we could see the beautiful beach below and the waves crashing up on the rocks. The trail down to the beach wasn’t obvious. It was definitely keeping itself hidden, special, only for those who truly wanted to find it.
The steep incline had a few tiers to look out over the beach.
And down below, the tide was halfway to it’s lowest point, allowing us a vast area to walk:
Tucker always seems happy at the beach. He walks briskly away from the tide coming in, but always seems to love walking and galloping upon the sand.
His ears in the wind and smile on his face is all I need to fill my heart with joy.
Mother Nature even provided him a little Christmas gift:
I don’t know why I spend money on manmade toys when nothing can beat a simple stick steeped in seaweed and crustacean carcasses.
As with any walk or hike, Tucker needs to go from one boundary to the other, pushing the limits as to how far he can go. We probably could have walked further, but I was worried that I might not judge the tide and end up stuck on the wrong side of a cliff’s edge. I was finally dry; I didn’t care to be covered in ocean again.
With the sun about to set in less than an hour, I was hoping to make it up to Skyline Blvd to watch the sun set over the ocean after driving through the sacred redwood forest where my heart is home.
We stopped off to give Methuselah Solstice greetings. I don’t believe Tucker has ever met her, but he seemed slightly unimpressed… or perhaps just tired from his long day of Christmas adventuring.
Back at our humble San Francisco cabin in the city, Tucker had his special dinner (I have no idea why it tastes good… it sounds disgusting.)
And then it was time to open gifts. After seeing Tucker with a broken tennis ball he had found on the beach a week earlier, I questioned my purchases. Perhaps random trash was better than a new toy.
But it seems he liked what he got as well. So, I guess his taste is like mine: I like new things, but truly appreciate the antiques for the stories they hold.
Christmas is no longer the Bing Crosby and Norman Rockwell images of my childhood. But that’s okay. We make our own traditions as we grow up, and the Christmas spirit is alive and well no matter where we are as it resides within us.
Tucker and I wish you all a happy holiday season. May you always find the Christmas spirit within your heart, no matter where you are or what time of year it is. Wishing you all blessings of love and light.
Three hundred and fifty-eight days (just shy of one year) after Tucker and I arrived back from our last location gig and subsequent trek across the States, we loaded up our trusty steed and headed north. Back home to the redwoods… sort of.
Although our weekend personal getaways take us to San Francisco proper, our own home-away-homes during our location gigs have always been among the redwoods on the peninsula. There, the sidewalks are paved with fallen leaves and the smell of earth permeates everything, even when the windows are closed.
This time though, there were no such cabins available. As a runner up for accommodations, I had been hoping for a beach house in Pacifica or even a house in Daly City that might have a yard but even that search came up empty. And then, a week before take off, a search lacking filters came up with this beauty (photo from MLS):
It was as if someone had secretly stolen a redwood cabin from the woods and tucked it away in their backyard in the city. Although I would miss my morning walks in the woods, the commute to work would be wonderfully short, and once the door to the street was closed, Tucker and I would have our own private cabin. No one floor flat and no cramped quarters of a junior one bedroom like the other city options I had inquired about. A proper house (only 700 square feet, but still a stand alone house), in a small garden, where Tucker and I could be safe, secure, and forget we were only steps away from a concrete jungle.
I must admit though: it's not all concrete.
At the end of our street, just a ten to fifteen walk away (depending on how much sniffing Tucker needs to do), is Kite Hill—a quarter acre mound of green where numerous trails from different parts of the city (and elevations of the city) intersect. Here, people come to just look out across the bay or let their dogs socialize in the morning.
Even within the city, there are strange pockets of nature, as if nature fought back, refusing to give up every square inch to manmade edifices—no matter how beautiful they might be.
One afternoon Tucker and I wandered about this forest known as Sutro Park which, although it had only a couple miles of trails, seemed many miles away from the city that surrounds it.
Tucker found this meta art piece rather ridiculous. Humans are always trying to replicate Mother Nature's work, but here in her own gallery it was blasphemous.
On the other hand, this is exactly what this city is about: little gems of creativity and individuality. And an incredible respect and reverence for nature. This was merely someone's expression of that. That love of nature is reflected in the architecture and in the city design as a whole.
Just from Kite Hill, I could see three green spaces: Corona Heights, Tank Hill, Twin Peaks. I could see people on those mounds of earth, so I estimated they couldn't possibly be that far sway. I decided Tucker and I should trek to a couple of those green spaces and get to know the city.
Indeed it was not far—it just a lot of ups and downs to get there.
Corona Heights Park was only half an hour walk on city streets before our feet touched soil again. Up through the dog park to the tippy-top where we could see much more of the city and the bay.
That mound out near the water is San Bruno Mountain. I had looked into staying near there as well, but learned that Tucker would not be allowed on that grassy knoll. It's one of the few green spaces within the city that is not dog friendly. It was immediately taken off my list of possibilities.
Although Corona Heights offered a lovely view of the Bay, I still longed for the westward view, the ocean, the place where the fog rolls in, and so we headed northwest to Tank Hill.
Many hills (and about twenty minutes) later, we arrived at its base. There, in the distance, those two little reddish pillars are the Golden Gate Bridge.
We climbed the hill to find more people here than at Corona Heights.
Everyone was standing facing east, looking out at the Bay that we had seen from Corona Heights. I wanted something different. So we went around the rocky outcropping to find the view that suited us better:
There was still city, but much more of Nature and a lot less of Man to be seen.
Tucker and I sat on the grassy knoll with rocks behind us, getting to see the most of nature that we could this deep in the city.
San Francisco is a beautiful city. I’m not knocking it. I’m just more of a woods and sea kind of person. However, every night when I walk Tucker, I take the time to really see every individual house (and hope no one thinks I’m casing the joint) to appreciate the attention to detail. The details make up the whole and every distinctly individualized house makes up the city itself. These patches of green spread about the hills and valleys is what makes San Francisco so unique. People realized that Nature is important and that open space must be preserved. It’s why real estate is so expensive here: there’s a limited amount to reside in. The rest is for Mother Nature.
Even secret passageways have the touch of Nature—like this one we took to get down from Tank Hill. It’s called Pemberton Lane—four city blocks of stairs. And on every riser flat was an entrance to a home. People live here as if tucked away in a fairie glen.
In under two hours, Tucker and I had traversed over four miles of the city and spent a good deal of that time on soft earth. So overall, it’s not bad to live in the city. But we will absolutely be venturing beyond the city streets as often as we can to be under towering canopies of redwoods and along the shore, taking in the sea air and watching the fog roll in.
And that's another great thing about San Francisco: you don't even need to leave it to get to the ocean.
Seldom am I in Southern California for my birthday. I knew that after spending last year in the Blue Ridge Mountains, nothing I could do this year could possibly top that. That’s the downfall to doing a big thing for your 40th: the rest of your 40’s pales in comparison.
However, my annual quest remains the same regardless of where I am: to find Fall. In Los Angeles, I worried autumn may never come. After a hot summer, the fall wasn’t looking any cooler. Leaves change color when the kiss of frost is touched by the morning sun. We had sunshine aplenty, but frost was nowhere to be found.
An online search for where to go to see autumn colors in Southern California brought up a trail called Ice House Canyon in part of Mt. Baldy—a mountain I had yet to explore. It was listed as 7.7 miles up and back which is a bit long for Tuck and me, but with an elevation gain of 2637 feet, I thought the length might prove in our favor as it would be less of an incline. I honestly was going for the parts that touted the fall colors near a stream on the canyon floor, so if we didn’t make it all the way up the mountain, so be it. At least I’d see fall.
Autumn in the Golden State is exactly that: golden. Seldom do you get the reds and oranges and other colors that blanket New England. It’s all a yellow-gold.
In that way, the trail did not disappoint. It only disappointed me in comparison to last year’s North Carolina’s adventure.
After less than an mile of hiking, I figured out that this trail was named Ice House Canyon not for the chill in the air, but because the giant white rocks gave an illusion of bricks of ice tossed into the valley.
For Tucker, this was instant agility heaven.
A stream ran along the trail for quite aways, a bubbling brook for our auditory pleasure.
And then the ascent began…
The ice blocks petered out, and what was left was a sandy trail. But up above, the sky was a stunning rich blue, unmarked by clouds.
Down below, the trees clung to the steep land, still reaching to the heavens.
A fews hours after leaving the canopy of gold on the canyon floor, we did indeed reach the Saddle. However, my GPS had clocked us at 5.5 miles, not 3.6—a hefty difference in space and time.
The thing about the saddle is that it’s the low point, not the pinnacle. The best views were right before we dipped back into the saddle. But I still longed for Blue Ridge Mountains. Here the mountains are majestic and high—but also often bare from the climate. I am, afterall, in a desert.
I made it a point to still find some green:
Tucker decided he needed a rest having reached our goal, without concern that we now needed to go back the way we came. Since he is always courteous when I need a rest, I allowed him his and waited.
I don’t know what dreams Tucker was having, but I think what I was seeing beat anything he saw behind his closed lids.
It wasn't the Blue Ridge Mountains or the rolling hills of New England, but it was still beautiful. It's just a different style of beauty. Mother Nature is diverse, and as I sat there looking out over the thorny plants and harsh landscape, I felt blessed to be able to visit so many of her different, yet equally stunning, galleries.
We had been hiking for over 3 hours, and although I wanted to let Tucker rest more, we needed to get back down the mountain. I assumed the descent would be significantly quicker than the ascent, but I was wrong.
Tucker is very goal-oriented. He will push through to reach the finish line (i.e., the top of a mountain), failing to realize that we aren’t actually finished; it’s just the first goal. The second goal is to make it back to the car.
Less than a half mile into our descent, Tucker held a sit in… then a lie down. I waited five minutes, uneasy that this portion of journey could extend into nightfall if we continued at this pace.
As I watched him nap, I realized I need to add a rescue harness to my backpack—something to carry him out should he become injured. He wasn’t injured. He wasn’t suffering from a life-threatening incident. He was just too dang tired to keep walking.
I urged him on and when we came upon three boys in their twenties taking a break on their way up to smoke some pot, Tucker decided these guys were totally his speed. He lay down beneath one of them who was sitting on a rock in the middle of the trail.
I enjoyed conversation (and a slight contact high) while Tucker took another ten minute nap. Once the boys were done with their break, Tucker and I resumed our downward journey.
Every time Tucker stopped, I wished I had something to carry him in. Back on the canyon floor, Tucker came across a family who had stopped to eat lunch among the golden leaves. With no formal invitation, Tucker let himself into their circle off the trail and lay down as if this was his family now and promptly fell asleep.
It hadn’t been since Mt Shasta that Tucker had been this exhausted on a hike. I had wanted to wear him out some so I didn’t feel guilty leaving him behind for my birthday dinner in the evening, but I guess we went a little too far.
One of the boys had questioned if perhaps Tucker’s hiking days were over. I exclaimed No! Absolutely not, he’s only six. He’s got at least five more years left. As he ages, I know our hikes will need to be shorter and less strenuous. But I’ll never go hiking without him. And if he needs to stop, then I’ll stop with him. Because I’ll never leave him behind. And he’ll never leave me either.
So I didn’t get a New England Autumn this year; I had one last year. So I didn’t get an easy hike; I still got to explore nature. And ultimately, the greatest gift of all is with me every day: my constant and loyal canine companion. Whether we’re hiking to the highest mountain peaks, strolling through meadows, or stopping to take in the fresh air and view, we’re on this journey of life together, side by side... even if I can't manage a proper selfie together to prove it.