A tunnel formed by California oaks, cool and shady, beckons us as my husband and I enter the nature park. The trickling stream where teal-headed ducks paddle, bobbing for minnows and tadpoles, entices us to follow its companion trail. Rustlings in the underbrush alert us to quiet quail and lithe lizards. A long-tailed reptile darts out into a sunny patch on the path for its morning calisthenics. Up and down goes the head and neck, the lizard version of push-ups. We laugh and it scurries back into the foliage.
Slowly but surely my legs feel the strain of an incline as I lag behind my husband on the trail. Dodging lower branches of the chaparral’s smaller trees, we’ve left the brook behind, emerging into the California coastal sagebrush habitat and sunshine. A clean offshore breeze cools our necks and makes me happy to keep my sweatshirt on. I grab my wide-brimmed hat just in time to prevent a mischievous gust from taking it as a dancing partner, and jam it more firmly on my head.
We pause and look out over the canyon the trail is circling. A hawk soars up and around on the air currents, followed by its regal feathered pal. A couple of woodpeckers tap out secret codes on an intruding power pole.
I gasp as a bushy-tailed critter clambers up the embankment ahead. My husband says calmly, “It’s just a ground squirrel.”
I want something much more exotic like maybe a wolverine especially since they are so rare. But I admit, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s probably a squirrel but my imagination prefers wolverine. Someone got a photo of one a year or so ago up in Tahoe, first one seen in 75 years.”
“You wouldn’t like how they smell anyway,” he says. “Besides wolverines don’t come this far south.”
He crouches and peers at the dirt, points. “Bobcat paw prints. And there’s some scat too. You know, their back feet always land in the same place as the front feet so it looks almost like the prints are from a two-legged animal. It’d be the only one of a pair in this canyon. No two bobcats of the same sex will share their territory.”
“Now that’s a little too exotic for me. I hope Mr. And Mrs. Bobcat are holed up for the day.”
“I’m sure they are,” he assures me. “They usually hunt at night and this canyon gives them more than their fill of critters. It’s a veritable small mammal smorgasbord.”
I call my husband’s attention to the cacti illustrating both sides of the path. “I think this is called Beavertail cactus. The stems do look like a beaver’s tail, don’t they? And see the reddish tipped bulbs on the tips of the stems? They’re so pretty when they bloom. I’ve heard that jelly and syrup can be made out of the prickly pear fruit too.”
As we round the far end of the nature park’s 58 acres, I take a refreshing swig from my water bottle. Even with the mild spring temperature I’ve worked up a sweat. I’ll be glad to reach the shade again. The trail makes a sharp descent and our knees and hips protest. The unmistakable smell of damp leaves and mud reaches us before we get to the source. I’m happy to see a bench under the trees near a rustic wooden bridge crossing the stream. We rest our aging bones and let the musical tones of water over rocks lull us here at the end of the trail.
“Remember when we used to bring the kids here,” my husband muses. “I’m proud of all of ‘em and glad they’re doing well on their own. But now that our nest is empty, I wish I’d spent more time with them when they were around, paid more attention.”
“Me too,” I pat his knee. “Sort of like how we took our time today on the trail. Seems like yesterday our family was just beginning. You know, without the middle, there is no beginning, nor end. What happens between those two points is so important. People tried to tell us how quickly children grow up and leave home. Perhaps we listened a little too late. Or maybe no matter how much time we give, we always wish we’d had more. I’m glad we gave them moments at this park and have good memories to treasure. I’m sure they do too.”
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