Give Me THREE MINUTES Before You Start Your Monday!

By Elizabeth Speth

Well, shoot.  It’s Monday, isn’t it?

Quick!  Come on a three-minute hike with me.  I swear it won’t take longer than that, and I’ll have you in the office on time.  I promise.  C’mon.

Come on!  Hurry up!  But watch your step.

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We’ll start here. Top of the canyon, among the poppies. They won’t be there much longer, on account of the drought. So we must say a very fond hello to them now. Our destination is that thin trickle of water at the bottom of that canyon. It should be a raging torrent right now. Again, blame the drought. But we’re not going to think about that now. We’re going to start walking.

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We’re going to look up from time to time on our steep downward trek. See the sky, the wildflowers…

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Sometimes you will get some uphills, briefly, and your knees will sigh in relief. Mostly it’s down, down, down. These trails are deep grooves carved out by water run-off, horses’ hooves, peoples’ shoes… Remember, though.  You have to climb all of it on the way home.  It’s all right.  You’re up for it.  It’s going to be great.

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Did I warn you about the butterflies? We’re going to see a lot of them. They are glorious. Thick as a butterfly blizzard.

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They seem to have a ‘flash blue’ switch they turn on, and blue magically appears on those black wings, flashing and blinking in the sun.

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More trail. It’s leveled out a bit because we’re nearly to the river. Listen.  Hear it whispering to you? Look…

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…yes… There it is! The path has widened to a road. The water is rushing by, and you can hear the calls of geese nesting there. It’s getting warm. Almost warm enough to swim.

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We linger here a bit, watching the water flow by, worried that so much of the riverbed is exposed so early in the year. We gather our strength for the climb to the top of the canyon, and we whisper to Mother Nature. Soft little prayers for rain. And for the will to go strongly to the top.

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Back up. Steep. We welcome the butterflies. We stop and take pictures of them, which gives us a chance to breathe. Watch out. That’s poison oak. All of it, except for the flower.

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Globe lilies. My favorite wildflower. They are so unassuming. But at night, the woodland fairies come and detach blooms. They tuck fireflies inside and flit about using the pearly orbs for light. These are also called fairy lanterns.

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A fragile wild iris. Showing its kind purple dragon face to the sun.

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We are (puff, puff!) back up. Among our brief friends, the wildflowers. Hey, I know you have to get to work, but…

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There is a bar in town near here. A simple place. Good whiskies, or we can just order breakfast there and think about how fun it would be to be that naughty on a Monday.

Ok.  We’re done.  Grab a water bottle, and off to work with you.  It was a good hike, my friend.  You were good company.  Be strong this week.  Get through it.

A Walk In The Woods

By Elizabeth Speth

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“…I got a great deal else from the experience. …For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.”
― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

It is a true fact that walking in the wilderness can be dangerous.

There are wild animals, the stalking kind that only introduce themselves shortly before they kill you.  Poisonous plants will reduce you to a blubbering mound of oozing itch.  Tree roots grab your ankles, wrench you to the ground, the better for snakes to strike you.  Cliffs lure you over their edges with glorious views.

The only thing that could possibly enhance the danger of the experience is a walk in the wilderness with a gang of strangers.

I have a friend who shall remain nameless (Tracey) who talks me into all sorts of questionable adventures.  Life-threatening things like ocean kayaking, and fried foi gras with sour cherry sauce (the deliciousness of which still haunts me).  Martinis with vodka AND gin.

Only she could have convinced me that hiking with a group of people I’d never met — a large group — on a trail I’d never seen, was an idea worth considering.

It’s a very interesting concept, the hiking meet-up group.  E-mails fly back and forth all week.  The route is outlined, the difficulty assessed somewhere between easy and advanced, and at the designated time cars full of people, friends and strangers alike, roll up at the designated place.  People of all sizes and fitness levels tumble out.  And unpack serious hiking equipment.  Trekking poles.  UV rated hats.  Poison oak balms.  Water filtration systems.  Ultra-light packs.  They are young.  They are middle-aged, like me.  They are in their eighties.  They are the kind of hikers who like to chat.  Also the quiet kind.  They stick together.  They unravel from the group and catch up later.  They are grateful to spend some time in nature with like-minded folk.  It’s as simple as that.

So we set out.  We formed conversational alliances and disbanded them.  We surged forward and fell back.  I set eyes on trees and hillsides, flowers and rock formations I’d never seen, though I’ve hiked and ridden my horse in the area for years.

walk 1  We admired the wildflowers.

We stopped for lunch after six miles.  We shared our scant food, discussed the route, the other trails we’ve walked.

Some things about the day stand out.

The man in his mid-eighties who spotted, with his eyes so much older than mine, the jewel-toned redbud trees I’d missed amongst the tangled oaks, buckeye and manzanita.  I hadn’t been able to see the trees for the forest. He pointed out where they spilled, as if out of an overturned jewelry box,  all the way down a densely grown hillside.

Another man, younger, kind and very rugged, a retired prison guard, let it drop that he was observing the anniversary of the death of his mother.  And also his birthday.  On the same day.  As he’d done for years and would do for the rest of his life.  He was the one who pulled out a flask of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey at the lunch stop, and we drank a wee toast to the fact that our parents do in fact take some part of us with them when they go.  We drank to happiness and sadness, which so often walk a ways together.

walk 7  We saw slender promises of summer from Mother Nature.

For the first time in my life — though I have driven over it hundreds of time, and gazed at it from the ground — I walked across the Foresthill Bridge.  This miraculous structure somehow straddles the confluence of the Middle and the North forks of the American River.

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It is the highest bridge, in terms of deck height, in California, and the fourth highest in the United States. It is sometimes referred to as the Auburn-Foresthill Bridge or the Auburn Bridge. Movies have been made here.  The distraught have flung themselves off the mortal coil here, a sickening 731-foot plunge into a granite-crowded river bed.

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A view of the confluence, left,  from atop the Foresthill Bridge. At right, a look down the yawning  American River Canyon.

Originally constructed to accompany the unbuilt Auburn Dam, the bridge was fabricated in 1971 by Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Japan, re-built here by Willamette Western Contractors, and opened in 1973.  I didn’t know any of that.  Until my walk in the woods with a bunch of strangers.

walk 8  A wildflower meet-up group.

We stopped just short of nine miles, back at our starting point. Having wound through several microclimates together, up hill and down dale, we had evolved, for a sliver of time, into a community.  A society.  It was a brief, pleasant alliance, founded in a shared love of nature, forged by a warm spring afternoon’s exertion, and the general goodness of humanity.  We’d given each other the benefit of the doubt, and mutually agreed to swap a few hours of our lives for the experience.

We parted friends.  We went home.

It was lovely.