Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Beginning and End (04/16/09)
TITLE: Whats On the Trail?
By Anita van der Elst
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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 chaparralās smaller trees, weāve 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, āItās just a ground squirrel.ā
I want something much more exotic like maybe a wolverine especially since they are so rare. But I admit, āYeah, youāre right. Itās 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.ā
āYou wouldnāt like how they smell anyway,ā he says. āBesides wolverines donāt come this far south.ā
He crouches and peers at the dirt, points. āBobcat paw prints. And thereās 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. Itād be the only one of a pair in this canyon. No two bobcats of the same sex will share their territory.ā
āNow thatās a little too exotic for me. I hope Mr. And Mrs. Bobcat are holed up for the day.ā
āIām sure they are,ā he assures me. āThey usually hunt at night and this canyon gives them more than their fill of critters. Itās a veritable small mammal smorgasbord.ā
I call my husbandās attention to the cacti illustrating both sides of the path. āI think this is called Beavertail cactus. The stems do look like a beaverās tail, donāt they? And see the reddish tipped bulbs on the tips of the stems? Theyāre so pretty when they bloom. Iāve heard that jelly and syrup can be made out of the prickly pear fruit too.ā
As we round the far end of the nature parkās 58 acres, I take a refreshing swig from my water bottle. Even with the mild spring temperature Iāve worked up a sweat. Iāll 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. Iām 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.
āRemember when we used to bring the kids here,ā my husband muses. āIām proud of all of āem and glad theyāre doing well on their own. But now that our nest is empty, I wish Iād spent more time with them when they were around, paid more attention.ā
āMe too,ā I pat his knee. āSort 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 weād had more. Iām glad we gave them moments at this park and have good memories to treasure. Iām sure they do too.ā
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