I got a late start this morning. At 11:30 last evening, I had every intention of getting up with the first blast of the alarm at 5 AM. Our clock radio isn't reset on the weekends, just in case we decide to exercise a little ambition and get out truly early. Alas, today was a day of shutting off the radio almost the instant it began blaring public affairs radio, as is the weekend programming at my local sports station.
Instead, I stayed in bed until after 9. I didn't kick myself, though - I've been fairly fried at the end of the week lately as we nervously await the word that our jobs have been "reorganized" to a geographic location much cheaper than the SF Bay Area. So far, so good. It didn't occur this week, and so onward we plod...
But the best way to forget about such mundane things as a continuing paycheck is to get out and see what's up in one of my favorite parks. The East Bay Regional Park District contains so many different kinds of parkland and open space that it may be impossible to experience them all in a single lifetime. So today I picked an old favorite, Sunol Regional Wilderness. Although I didn't get started until after noon, the temps didn't exceed 75 degrees, and a light wind kept the day mercifully cool.
I was amazed at how few people were taking advantage of this gorgeous day - just a few weeks ago, I'd come here when it was almost 100 degrees. The lots were full, and families raced each other to the shaded picnic sites. This fine afternoon only a few spaces were taken, the picnic areas empty, only maurauding gangs of scavenging wild turkeys occupied them. It figured, then, that the cars were hiker's cars; there would still be quite a bit of activity on the trails.
I started out on the easy Camp Ohlone Road, intending to make a loop out of it - a twist onto the Ohlone Wilderness trail for a short time, then back to the car via the more rugged McCorkle Trail. That was the plan. I'd hoped to see an early tarantula migration, as we're getting on toward that time of year when the big furry arachnids hit the trail, lookin' for love. For whatever reason the trail seemed even easier than is usual - the White Mountain ascent of 2 + weeks ago must've raised the bar so high that my favorite haunts might seem a little tame by comparison.
The trail just breezed beneath the wheels. I made time as I'd not made time for a long time. I stopped to listen to the sounds of fall arriving a week early - the constant "thunk" of big acorns falling off the Blue and Valley Oaks was a constant audio companion. This year's acorn crop is quite abundant, by the way, unlike 2006 when they were very scarce - more on my interpretation of that fact in a bit. Red - headed woodpeckers were the bird most frequently heard, and magpies jumped around the Sycamores chattering at me, each other and anything else that moved. I saw one black shouldered kite, and no other raptors (strangely enough). The usual buzzards circled overhead, gliding atop the oaks on the south side of the canyon at Little Yosemite.
As I travel slowly anyway, I usually travel alone. This lets me stop when I wish for as long as I wish, to watch and listen, to touch the small, oft overlooked things a fast hiker might not notice. Above Little Yosemite a few hundred yards I watched a tiny, less than 2" long lizard scramble beneath me - so of course I had to see if I could get it to climb onto my glove. This little guy was not receptive to that idea at all; I couldn't get within a foot of him before he skeetered off into the trailside brush. I wondered if a hiker moving at normal speed might have noticed it.
I turned off of Camp Ohlone to the Ohlone Trail link, up a moderate hill that rises to a nice flat, a place where I'd surprised deer and bobcats in the past. The trail was littered with bovine waste, though thankfully there were no cattle ranging this time of year. The last time I'd taken this route was before my intense gym workouts had begun a couple of years ago. I recalled how difficult a slog it had been and attacked the grades poderously. But the difficulty I remember had disappeared. The trail seemed sanitized, much easier than in the past. I quietly thanked my first trainer, who'd set me on the path to strength training for purposes such as this.
I stopped to listen. A call I'd never heard before, a monotone chatter came from beneath a brush pile several yards off the trail. Halfway up a short grade I stopped to try to pinpoint it, to see if I could figure out what kind of critter was making that noise. I inched up the hill still listening, but never got a look. But I'd made it to the gate into the backpacker's camp, and joined up with the narrow single track of the McCorkle Trail. Eventually it would widen after a short stretch, but I had to pick very gingerly over this bit, as a miscalculation would land me several feet below in a small canyon. I stopped to down a couple of packets of Gu, the diabetic wheelchair hiker's best friend. I'd made incredibly good time to this point. And best of all, the day was just wonderful - not hot, just warm enough to keep the reptiles happy and mobile, and with the same wind, the quiet, warm breezes that carried with them the smell of laurel, of dry grass, of the sweet alders hanging over dry streambeds. Taking those aromas with me was a high point of the day. McCorkle makes a fast descent if you're going downhill on four wheels, so I took advantage and stopped frequently to look around, see what was watching from the ridges (nothing, sadly) and then buzz on downhill. At the trail's end by the bridge over Alameda Creek, a few wild turkeys peeped at each other beneath an old, sprawing Valley Oak. I crossed the bridge and was back at the car, talking to some hikers who had decided to head out for a late afternoon walk, a great idea on a day this nice. Unhooking the knobbies and placing the chair in the car, I resisted the urge to turn on the radio, and listening instead to the sounds of the park as I drove slowly out. I wish I'd gotten up earlier, if only to sit and rest out on the Ohlone, and take in more of the smells of late summer.
But if you've read this far, now you're in for a treat - I'm going to give you the benefit of my years on the trail, what I saw out there today, picking over the miutiae of life to make this bold forecast: despite what the meteorological prognosticators might have said after consulting their weather "models", Mother Nature has let me know that this winter will give us above average rain and snowfall in California. It's been my experience in my professional life that the folks responsible for business, weather or profit "models" are people who have the least experience with the processes that should go into finding the right variable with which to build the models. So I'm going with the abundance of acorns, the incredible ant and bee activity and the anxious hordes of hard working rodents to make my forecast. Bet on it. Take it to the bank - 4wheelbob says "RAIN" this winter. And I'll take Nature's signs over man's any day of the week....