Thank goodness! We finally made it to autumn. What a long, strange, foggy-soggy summer on the North Coast. But now, with the sun out and the air warm, perhaps now there’s hope of taking a few long, leisurely walks under azure-clear skies.
Ah, think of walking through the forest on a nice fall day! Paradise.
Sunshine filters through the treetops, scattering patches of light that flitter to the ground like incandescent butterflies. Where the patches are steady, some summer-stubborn wildflowers still lurk. I breathe in the scents of aromatic essential oils mixed in Mother Nature’s blendera heady, fragrant perfume of pine, oak, eucalyptus, bark, moss, ferns and earth made verdant by leftovers from the above.
I hear little animals skittering away and frenzied birds chirping at me, scolding me in the avian message of “Stay away from my nest!”
It’s magic, first because the critters are so plentiful and close here, and second, because we have so many places where we can hear them distinctly, rather than having to sift their sounds out of the usual din of humanity.
As American writer/naturalist John Burroughs wrote, “Every walk to the woods is a religious rite To be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter...to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring—these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”
We are so lucky. Just imagine: We live in the forest, and we can walk alone there.
Lots of people in the world must travel for miles to take a simple walk in the woods driving four or five hours and, when they finally get to the forested paradise, dealing with huge crowds.
Some people can only take virtual walks in the forest, watching those “you’d really rather be someplace else” videos while they exercise, or by taking the kind of cyber walk offered on www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/woods/.
Cambria is paradise. We are so fortunate to be here.
We’re surrounded by our woods, enveloped in them. If that brings us controversy — as it has for years, thinking back to the “We love Cambria stumps” bumper stickers and battles over which trees should stay and which should go — it’s worth the angst.
We have so many walks in the forest spreading out before us every day, in every kind of weather, in every season.
Heck, many of us take a stroll in the woods every time we go three doors down to see a neighbor. And taking a walk up Bridge Street to the Cambria cemetery, for instance, is an adventure in forest ecology.
We have the twisting turns of Fern Canyon, the creek roads and the publicly accessible parts of Strawberry Canyon, with dense pine canopies overhead and lush undergrowth that makes it difficult to keep up a steady pace, as you clamber over fallen trees, skirt patches of poison oak and battle your way through tangles of vines and ferns.
We drink in the beauty of our West Ranch upcountry, thick with pines, overlooking a stunning view of wildflower-frosted meadow and the Pacific Ocean.
Or we can stroll the Washburn boardwalk and trail in San Simeon State Beach, starting near the shore and wending across the wetland meadow and up into the forest on the hillside.
However, we must be ready to care for the beauty we love.
Do some of us take all this beauty for granted? Could that complacency come back to bite us, when aging trees fall and Cambria’s trademark skyline changes forever? Oh, for sure, except for the work of some groups of volunteers who have already faced the music that our elderly forest is ever changing, and it takes hard work and money to make sure the stand of native pines and oaks and other trees survive and flourish.
The Cambria Forest Committee, Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust, Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County/Cambria Land Conservancy are among those dedicated organizations.
Eventually, we’ll all have to face the fiscal music, my friends. We’ll all be asked to shell out a few bucks a month so a forester, volunteers from those groups and each of us can work toward keeping our forest healthy.
When that time comes, just remember the wide-open-arms joy of taking a walk in our woods in any season, and rejoice about how very lucky we are.
(This column ran first on March 31, 2005. I’ve modified it to fit this year's equally strange weather.)