It’s the middle of April, and I have been hiking a six-mile loop of trails at Bear Valley Trailhead in Point Reyes National Seashore: Bear Valley trail to Pine trail to Sky trail, and back on Bear Valley.
The best five minutes are in the early afternoon, when I’m about half-way and coming out of the trees and into the open.
The ground right here is hard and full of rocks and small stones instead of soft with the pine needles I’ve been walking on. The sun overhead is bright and glaring; it’s hot and I’m sweating hard.
In the mid-distance is Mount Wittenberg, but about an eighth of a mile ahead, the trail smooths out and winds to the left around a low hill completely covered in golden poppies waving and shimmering in the light breeze. It’s an amazing sight you don’t get to see unless you’ve worked for it, since it’s a considerable climb no matter which way you come up.
I’ve been anticipating this and I never, ever tire of it. I push ahead until the poppy-covered hill is on my right and a gradual, rolling, dark green, and lush drop-off on the left exposes specks of tents and tables from Sky Camp far below.
Beyond that is the blue-green water of Drake’s Bay lapping at the shore, sunlight rippling the surface. I’m so thirsty I stop and take a long drink of water from the plastic bottle in my backpack. The water’s warm but I gulp it, marveling at how much better water tastes when I’m hiking than at any other time.
I stand still, gazing at the distant water and letting the sweat evaporate from my skin. I smell the dust of the trail and the pine trees. I turn to look at the poppies again, drinking in the sight as a couple of orange and yellow butterflies flit in and out among them.
That’s paradise to me.
What are the best five minutes of your perfect day?
As much as I love New Mexico, my favorite place is not here but in California, where I lived for 30 years. It’s Pt. Reyes National Seashore, 70,000 absolutely gorgeous acres of park land and nature preserve located in Marin County. I’ve said for decades that if anyone were to gift me with a small cottage in Bear Valley and transport me into it, I would happily remain there for the rest of my days.
Although I had easy access to many hiking areas including Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods, and the Marin Municipal Water District, Bear Valley trailhead in Pt. Reyes was my favorite. Just as Pino Trail at Elena Gallegos Park in Albuquerque is my current go-to trail, my go-to trail in Pt. Reyes was a loop that included Bear Valley trail to Old Pine to Sky to Mount Wittenberg and back to Bear Valley.
There’s an area along Sky trail that steadily inclines as you get closer to Mount Wittenberg. The path is gravelly and out in the open. The best time to hike here is in the spring, because just at the point when the thought might cross your mind that this is not so much fun, you turn a corner and are faced with a brilliant display of bright orange poppies against the side of a hill that is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks to celebrate the moment and the fact that you’re alive.
I haven’t been back to Pt. Reyes in almost six years, but the place always feels like home to me. I’ve hiked there alone, with groups, with various friends, and most often with my partner, who died 10 years ago. He was much more of an outdoor person than I was when I met him shortly after I moved to California from the flat land of eastern Michigan. I can still remember purchasing my first pair of hiking boots. They cost about $35, which seemed like a lot of money in 1975, but I didn’t have to replace those boots until I moved to New Mexico.
Of course I miss Pt. Reyes and plan to visit it again, but I spent so much time there and have so many memories of my experiences in it that it doesn’t really matter if I ever get back. There’s a part of Pt. Reyes that’s inside me now and always will be.
This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.
For the first 28 years of my life, I lived in Michigan, the Great Lakes State. We were inland from Saginaw Bay off of Lake Huron, so summers meant spending afternoons on the beach at Bay City State Park or driving up to Tawas City for the day. When I was a kid, our family spent a week or two every summer in a cabin on Higgins Lake, where there were daily motorboat rides on the Lake and weekends of waterskiing. Oh, yes, there was also a lot of swimming—but none of it by me. I never learned to swim and had a deep fear of the water for decades. I like to look at water, splash around in it a little, listen to the sounds of the surf or the waves, and even venture out on it in a boat once in a while, but that’s it. No swimming.
Not a happy camper. Can I get any farther away from the edge of this boat?
The first vacation my parents took me on was a fishing trip when I was about five years old. It meant leaving my baby brother behind and having my parents to myself. I loved every minute of it—except for the minutes when we were actually in a boat on the water, during which I reportedly whined or cried non-stop.
One day when I was a teenager, my mother, two brothers, and I were crossing on foot from the east side of town to the west side, which involved walking over a bridge. I refused to walk across the Third Street Bridge with them because I didn’t believe it was safe. Not only was it obviously decrepit, but you could look down between the wooden slats of the walkway and see the water! So I added a couple of miles to the jaunt by detouring solo to cross over the newer Memorial Street Bridge, which was constructed of concrete and steel. (Shortly after I moved to San Francisco, my mother sent me a clipping from the local newspaper with a picture of the collapsed Third Street Bridge.)
I lived in Northern California for close to three decades and spent a lot of time along the shores of the Pacific Ocean—especially the beaches at Pt. Reyes National Seashore, which is my favorite place in the world. I admit that if someone were to provide me with a cottage in Bear Valley and set me down in it, I would happily remain there for the rest of my life. Alas, that is unlikely to happen.
As it was, I moved to New Mexico, high desert with a rapidly dwindling body of water running through it that is still called The Rio Grande. Lots of other people have moved here from places adjacent to large bodies of water, and most of them sorely miss being near water. But I’m not one of them. I have realized that what all three places I’ve lived in have in common—and what seems more essential to me than water—are trees and lots of them.
Faded photograph: the view down the street from the last house I lived in in Michigan, October 1974.
I’m thinking about trees right now because it’s autumn and the first leaves are turning yellow and gold. And that reminds me of Michigan, where the leaves are turning much more spectacular colors of the autumn rainbow. I haven’t been back to see that in well over a decade and it’s the thing I miss most about my home state. I missed it even more when I lived in California, where deciduous trees are in short supply. But I’m satisfied with the golden oaks and aspens here because as long as there are deciduous trees, there will come the budding of new leaves in the spring.
Tree Spring Trail
And that is now my favorite tree-time of the year. I like the architecture of trees in spring when the pale shoots decorate their branches with lacy green filigree. I think you can see trees best in the spring. Sometimes I drive around in late March and April just to look at the trees. It almost makes winter worth it. Snow on branches is pretty cool, but only for the first 60 minutes.
I loved to hike the trails of Pt. Reyes National Seashore in California, and I now love to hike the trails of the Sandia Mountains here in New Mexico. As long as there’s a trail in a forested area I can walk along—as long as I have trees—I’m home.
song of the trees
Here is Song of the Trees written and recited by poet, actor, and activist John Trudell: