The words “he didn’t pay me much attention” are not what you usually would expect to hear describing a great date.? This, however, was anything but expected.
I met him a mile and a half from the trailhead, me running back to my newly returned Ellie.? I’d pulled up short to photograph some Butter-N-Eggs and when I stood back up there he was, 100 yards ahead of me emerging from the meadow onto the trail.
Look close at the top of the trail
He gave me a half a glance, then proceeded to eye the tall grasses across the trail from him, inching forward.? I watched for just a few moments and was treated to the sight of him jumping from an all-fours standstill at least 6 feet in a perfect arc, disappearing into the tall waves of green.? He emerged with a catch in his mouth – way too far away for me to see what it was – and paused, again looking my way.? He sought a bit of privacy.? Walking around a bunch of scrub he settled on the other side and went to work.? I could see his hindquarters but nothing else.? Less than a minute passed and he emerged, giving me again a casual glance, and started lazily swaying his way up the trail in that long limbed walk bobcats have.
I had worked my way closer as he ate. As he walked between tree shadows I saw the slanting sun light up his healthy fur, some russet, some white and brown spots, tawny above.? He’d walk a few yards, listening and eyeing the grasses along the trail, then stop, turn and look over his shoulder at me. As he glanced he’d give me a few swats of that curled short tail of his before resuming his stroll.? As I passed the spot he hunted, I looked and found a neat pile of entrails in the otherwise spotless and undisturbed grasses. They were absolutely beautiful.? The kidneys were feather thin and winglike. They were all still warm.
I was so bummed to find this picture blurry because I was tracking him.
We continued on that way; his lazy long limbed walk and look backs.? My soft quiet steps following then pausing.? He squatted to mark the trail in a few spots, not shy of me being there.? At the next trail junction he resumed his rapt attention into the meadow and I got a repeat of the same show:? standstill, leap, catch, eat. This time I counted the time:? 29 seconds start to finish.? Predators are brutal, clean.? I wondered how that would feel, imagining a Tyranosaurus Rex leaping from the forest nearby, giving me the same treatment, part of me still alive on his insides, part of me warm in the cool field.
I continued to move closer while he ate and then we picked up the walk-pause-follow dance, him letting me draw slightly nearer all the time.? At the next trail curve he walked downslope into the grass. I thought he had for sure dropped into the scrubby drainage and out of sight, but as I cautiously approached I found he was standing just 20 yards off trail. I paused another dozen yards away, watching his ears work the field, black with their white arrow stripes, his eyes relaxed almost shut as he pulled the dusk air across his tongue and nostrils. He tracked an opportunity and almost jumped twice.? After awhile of no action, he actually settled back on his haunches, not going anywhere. He finally turned full my way and all of a sudden he was an owl’s wide face, surprisingly all grey mottled, the warm tones gone.
I stood. He sat. The fog bank rolled in down the coast, eating up the sun. I shivered, my animal body needing its own dinner, its own winter coat.? I wasn’t sure the next step was, never having had the opportunity to be the first to leave a wild animal date.? I gathered my energy into my bones, quieting myself, and slowly started along the upslope edge of the trail, closing the last gap. I did not making eye contact as I came broadside, within 20 yards.? A quick shot of fear arose as I realized I was not watching this wild thing that could dismember a mouse in 30 seconds. A slow look sideways showed he had not moved.? He tracked me all the way by but did not really pay me much mind.? As I moved out of close zone, my breath let out and my heart broke open into tears: at the beauty of the gift, at the sadness I did not stop at that closest midway point and just settle back, too, on my haunches and smell him, watch the field, sit through the night. I thought to go back, but remembered his wildness, respected his space. I again gathered myself, turned toward him with a deep bow, and moved on into the last of the light.
At the car, I found a little boa (?) snake curled cold in the drive, which I moved out of tire-harms way.
These pictures too from the oh-so-warm evening hike on the Enchanted Loop Trail.
Poppy covered slopes.???????????????????? Trillium.
?The cure for anything is saltwater;?? sweat,? tears? or? the sea.?
~ Isak Dinesen
Despite hip challenges I’m still running.
Easily motivated when this is what’s out your front door.
All those metaphors about the ocean, well, they’re true.
Lost Coast Dozen, Photo by Paige Godfrey Faulk
Drove north with a new friend I’d met on the JMT to rendezvous with a group of strangers, except one gal I’d met briefly at the Church Creek Divide in Big Sur and then followed for years on Facebook. She’d opened up their annual Lost Coast trip and I hopped on it, being excited to get to know her and cross this trail experience off my bucket list.? The Lost Coast is a thin thread of a trail where the Kings Range meets the sea, so named because its the only 80 mile stretch of California coast that was has no highway on it due to the extremely challenging terrain. A look up at the ridges dropping down to drainage after drainage proves it and makes one glad they are not currently hiking the inland route.
We met Friday morning at Black Beach trailhead in Shelter Cove and piled all our packs into Fred’s truck and us into two vehicles.
Two long windy hours later we arrived at the Mattole trailhead and began our 24 mile trek south under surprising Humbolt County blue skies. Just over 3 miles to go our first day, we had to pause and wait a bit for the tides to recede. The wilderness here is the one that sets the schedule.
The few returning hikers were amazed we did not experience the typical gusting winds as we set up camp and enjoyed a bonfire at the lighthouse. Bart and Ree actually set up their tent IN the lighthouse in preparation for it! Rosanne and I shared a tent, and I kept mostly to my JMT list so my pack was under 30 and hiking was great.? Sunset was lovely and Todd’s bonfire took the group late into the night.
Lighthouse photo by Fred Gibson
We awoke the next morning drippy with fog condensation and packed early to get ahead of the tides, the mist magical as the big range stepped down into the ocean. It was more temperate than I expected and I hiked all day without a jacket, every step revealing big vistas, rock wall gardens and beach art underfoot. I ended up going a for a dip when my Nalgene bowl slipped from my cleaning and dropped down the waterfall into the creek bottom. I also started my beach trash collection on this day, Paige warning me I could never pack it all out.? I started light with a Clorox bottle that Rosanne suggested could also float my pack if I didn’t get to camp before the tide came in.
Fishing for the Nalgene before giving up, stripping down and jumping in
Photos of me by Paige
We camped that evening at Spanish Creek around the corner from a broad slope that will be royal purple with lupin in a month. After setting up camp I bushwhacked upstream, flushing a raven working marrow out of the ribs of a deer carcass. I returned to camp, the group gathered round the fire, rowdy on vodka and gatorade cocktails, grooving to Butch’s portable speakers and iPod.? Rain was in the forecast, but it held to just a few sprinkles overnight, the low pressure system bringing in some wind and keeping the fog at bay.
We awoke early and dry to a clearing sky, amazing low slanting light and some fine bluff hiking on the way to Shipman’s Creek. Perused some lovely inholding homes, complete with airstrips, perched on the flat bluff in front of some world class waves. Met some surfers from the Cruz camped behind slim driftwood shelters. They were quiet and salt licked with big smiles on their faces as they reloaded their 70 pound packs (with boards attached) after 4 days of riding the big break here.
We pulled our longest day, 8.6 miles, arriving before noon after ducking around the last pinch point to find a sweet little camp tucked tidily in the small space between the ravine outlet and the high tide line. Todd had the fine idea of getting in the water and so we did, dipping into the cold ocean and just-as-cold creek. We all risked sunburn over the long afternoon of nothing to do but play cards, doze, and watch the surfers play in their first ever take on the small break off camp. For the third night Todd built us a fire, this time just yards from the surf and we toasted the sunset and the fine day with whiskey, tequila and mandarins.
Creek and painting photos by Paige
Our last day was overcast, but dramatic with the trail never leaving the black rock and sand beach. I hustled ahead to get a past-due visit in with Paige and so enjoyed our one on one talk. She was relaxed, having shepherded our little band of hikers safely to this point and we walked out in front of the group.? We were exploring what looked like coyote tracks in single register when we looked up and saw the pair just ahead.? We herded them along the steep cliffs down the beach for a mile or so until they were able to scramble up a gully drainage and out of sight.
In true coyote medicine form, my camera batteries promptly died after that shot, but we had many photographers on the trip (see FaceBook for a zillion great images).? The rest of mine are here.
What good medicine for a still tender heart this trip was; the walk, the air, the ocean with all its lessons and wisdom… new friends.? When I got quiet I felt grief’s sadness. There too, deep in my bones, the first soft song of spring.
Running through my mind with each step, a JT song Fred had played in the truck on the way to Mattole:
“Oh, Its enough to be on your way. Its enough just to cover ground. Its enough to be moving on….
…Home, build it behind your eyes. Carry it in your heart. Safe among your own.”
So excited to have found some new hiking buddies and a down payment on more wilderness time in 2013.