Cambrian: Opinion

Brain scans reveal the benefits of nature, so plentiful around Cambria

Following the rains, the Santa Rosa Creek Trail offered the rushing roar of a creek turned into a river.
Following the rains, the Santa Rosa Creek Trail offered the rushing roar of a creek turned into a river. Special to The Cambrian

Once upon a winter’s season in the land of clatter and chatter (near the Potomac River), they were promoting “alternative facts” and dystopian descriptions of the state of our union that could stagger even the Mad Hatter.

A week into a new national administration, we are abruptly thrust into a needless diplomatic quarrel with Mexico, our neighbor and ally, over the petty discussion of who should pay for a wall that, trust me, will never be built.

We’re told that today’s America is in “carnage”; that “rusted out factories (are) scattered like tombstones across the landscape”; that torture will be reinstated vis-à-vis combating terrorism; and up to 5 million illegal votes were cast in 2016.

In a Jan. 26 phone call to Tommy Gong, clerk-recorder for San Luis Obispo County, this question was raised: “Have there been any reports of voter fraud in Cambria or in the county?”

Gong replied, “No there haven’t been any reports of voter fraud.”

Whew. At least we’re not to blame here in this exquisite seaside hamlet, where the only fake news was reportedly presented by a rogue scarecrow in the East Village two years ago.

Meanwhile, constructive actions are ongoing — including peaceful marches by millions, and letter-writing campaigns that respond to threats to take away federal dollars from “sanctuary cities” and to punish other targeted members of our pluralistic society.

But here in Cambria, there are trail-tested ways to shake off any stressors associated with the supercilious swagger and perplexing goings-on near the Potomac River.

Get the heck out of the house and take pleasure in some of Cambria’s wonderful trails!

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

One of my all-time favorite walks begins at the south entrance to the Bluff Trail (on Windsor South Boulevard) and winds north to the Marine Terrace Trail (a gravel path that leads back to Marlborough Lane). The Bluff Trail promises magnificent Pacific Ocean vistas as far as the eye can see.

Sturdy benches are plentiful for those wishing to just soak in the breathtaking sights — including whales, dolphins, otters and a wide variety of bird life and the thunder of breakers crashing against the rocky shoreline. With every step I take on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, I am mindful and thankful for the group of men and women who conducted fundraisers and found other sources of revenue to buy this 430-acre property in 2000.

I have become fond of the Forest Loop Trail, which I access from Huntington Road on Park Hill. The walk to the forested area takes about 10 minutes; you pass the Dolphin Bench and turn left at a 45-degree angle towards the woods.

Instantly you’re in a natural cathedral of pines, oak and a variety of plant species. Thick green vines totally envelop dead trees, bringing them back to life. Squirrels scurry up trees, deer dart into thick foliage, and an occasional jackrabbit quickly flees — his leaps eerily similar to a deer’s bounding momentum.

Trekkers pause and experience the joy of being hurtled back in time, to a moment in California history when this pastoral property was the domain of Chumash and Salinan Native Americans.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, I trekked through the forest for the first time following the heavy rains. I should have brought my snorkel and fins. There are large puddles, and the mud is serious, so go prepared until it dries out.

Santa Rosa Creek

Another part of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve that I enjoy is the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, which can be accessed from Windsor near the sewage treatment plant, or just south of the Santa Rosa Creek Bridge on Highway 1; a wide pull-off offers ample parking on the west side of the highway.

Up until last October, when the skies began to deliver much-prayed-for moisture, a lovely walk along the Santa Rosa Creek Trail (around a mile with some steep climbs) offered no hint that a creek existed parallel to it.

There were a few stagnant puddles — disguised by the dense foliage — and leafless trees on the east side of the trail. Last Thursday, however, those puddles were gone and instead, a raging river, colored burnt sienna brown, hurtled noisily toward the ocean.

The sound of the rushing creek is beautiful music to the ears of drought-weary residents. And those leafless trees that existed on each bank of the then-stagnant creek are now just large horizontal sticks flattened by the onrushing water.

Final thoughts

First, a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that visiting nature lowers levels of stress hormones in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain.

A research survey enlisted 90 volunteers — half were immersed in a quiet walk through a forested area, with the rest walking along a busy multilane Bay Area freeway.

Following brain scans for both groups, those visiting nature showed less blood flow to the brain’s subgenual prefrontal cortex — resulting in improved moods and a more serene outlook.

Secondly, should Russia’s President Putin wish to locate a bucolic parcel of land in Cambria, he would certainly be able to hack into the Friends of Fiscalini Ranch website (

There, he would learn that the Ranch has western pond turtles, red-legged frogs, black-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, monarch butterflies, great blue herons, burrowing owls and Cooper’s hawks, among other critters.

Of course, rather than hack the site, he could just log in like anyone else.

John FitzRandolph’s column is special to The Cambrian.