My walking companions are Diana, Betsy, and Beate. We walk the Stanford Dish, Rancho San Antonio, Picchetti’s, the Baylands, and Wilder Ranch among others. Three to four miles is the norm, but occasionally, mostly by accident, we do six or more.
Walking is what binds us. We walk to stay fit. But we are also out for beauty and camaraderie. On misty mornings, we swoon over the first timid rays of sunlight hitting the tops of the trees. On clear, blue-sky days we stand in awe at the expanse of San Francisco Bay far below us. We climb higher and higher just to breathe in with our eyes the outline of Monterey Bay. We talk. We talk about everything: Opinions, dreams, and ambitions. Nothing is taboo, although, we share a common sense of decorum.
Some of the best moments, and usually the funniest, are when a new idea hits that just has to be shared, no matter how crazy or impractical. Diana is a non-stop idea generator. When we hear, “I have an idea. Want to hear it?” we laugh and say, “Of course.” One was driving down the coast to Big Sur to stay overnight in a yurt. Another was opening a breakfast cafe in Palo Alto. Yet another was buying a lot on which to build two eco-friendly houses. The funny thing is that we seriously discuss many of these ideas, plot strategies, and make phone calls. We even went to look at some locations for our breakfast cafe and tried in vain to get a reservation for a yurt.
We can’t always walk together. We’re busy people. And, sometimes even when we start out together, each one ends up going it alone, at her own pace. We don’t have the need to stick together, just for the sake of it. Our comfort is deep enough that we can just be ourselves.
My favorite time to walk is early morning. Lately, Beate and I have been heading up to The Stanford Dish every morning for a 7:30AM start. Now that we’ve passed the fall equinox, the days are noticeably shorter, and daylight starts later and later. I detest getting up in the dark; doesn’t everybody? But, then, day breaks quickly and by the time I arrive at the Dish, the light is either golden or gray depending on the sun and fog. We start together but then each settles into her own stride only to meet again at the end of the trail for a stretch and quick update on what we’ve seen, heard or thought along the way.
Heading up the steep winding road, the birds make a ruckus as they fly about hunting their breakfast. A large red-tailed hawk often sits at attention either on a big oak tree or on one of the hay and iron people sculptures (now taken away) In the spring, the bluebirds flit from fence post to fence post, but are absent now. I imagine they are basking in the more southern latitudes of central Mexico or have descended to the balmier valleys where food is more abundant. Far up among the oaks, a deer lifts her head in attention and gazes out on the bay far below. The ground squirrels scurry about and pop in and out of their holes. Every once in a while a tarantula ambles across the path. The gnarly California buckeye at the top of the hill is bereft of leaves and only a handful of its shriveled pear-shaped nuts remain intact on its branches. It is beautiful just the same. Its trunk twists around itself and its canopy of stark branches spreads out against the sky.
This is a magical tree; it is also a contrarian. In summer when other trees are lush with foliage it drops its leaves to conserve water. Its nuts are poison and edible. In their raw state they are poisonous to humans but made into a flour by using a meticulous process of extracting, pounding and leaching, they can be cooked and eaten as did native Americans long ago in times of scarcity.
People are everywhere, too. Runners pass by on the left and on the right; some huff and puff like locomotives and others glide by on invisible wings. Fitness walkers make way with long strides and swinging arms. Strollers meander along the path and stop to look just because. Some mothers push their young offspring in high-tech strollers; others lash their infants to their fronts. Hikers sport weighted backpacks and heavy shoes with tweed socks. Pole walkers lift their knees high and lob along as though moon walking.
Perhaps the most amazing person I have seen up here was a young woman with a blond braid at the nape of her neck and long legs running at a good clip and holding open a book of Sudoku puzzles that she studied with extreme intensity. Obviously she was mentally solving one of the puzzles as she glided along. Here was the goddess of over-achievers, the archetype of Type A people everywhere exercising her brain and her body to perfection. Too bad she missed the squirrels scurrying to bury their winter sustenance or the early morning sun light saturating the long brown grass with its golden rays. But, then, one cannot be perfect in all things, not even the gods and goddesses.
Up here nothing matters except what one has chosen.
All original content copyright 2008 Mary E Slocum