A is for Anza-Borrego

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. It lies on the eastern edge of San Diego County, with parts of it extending into Riverside and Imperial Counties. The park is well known for its wild flowers in the spring, hiking trails, camping, diverse animal population, and unique beauty. For now, the park is closed, like so many others across the country, due to CONVID-19.

It has only been in the past couple years that I discovered the beauty of the desert. I was born a mountain lover and used to turn my nose up at the seemingly barren, uninteresting landscape of the desert. A couple recent desert visits changed my view forever. The desert—Anza-Borrego, specifically—is anything but barren and uninteresting.

From a distance, the desert looks drab. From the inside, it is a colorful place. Flowering desert plants, patches of flowering ground cover, reddish sand, striated cliffs and boulders, and minerals of red, white, and black are just some of nature’s swatches this desert hides from those who don’t venture in. In the spring, Anza-Borrego explodes in color in the form of wildflowers, giving even the most desert-averse the gift of its underappreciated beauty.

This is a gorgeous example of spring in Anza-Borrego. This is not my photo. Attribution is given in the caption below.

I can’t take credit for this photo. Instead, this talented person took it: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
Visit his flickr page for more.

If I had to choose between the mountains and the desert, I would still choose the mountains, for that is where my soul is bonded. Without the mountains, the Anza-Borrego Desert might be very different from the one I’ve learned to love. In this way, they are tied together, an attachment only nature can form.

These photos are from a recent winter excursion. I was hoping to go out in the spring to see the wild flowers, but social distancing happened. Hopefully next year.

Hiking the Volcan Wilderness Preserve

20170116_141923I wasn’t planning on hiking in the Volcan Wilderness Preserve. I had never heard of the preserve prior to Monday, when I got lost looking for the Kanaka Flat hike.

I know, I know … how does anyone get lost anymore? I do have navigation on my phone, but two things were working against me. First, once I hit the back roads, my cell connection gets pretty sketchy. Second, Kanaka Flat is within the Santa Ysabel Wilderness Preserve; it’s not its own preserve. I was looking for “Kanaka Flat Something Something Preserve.” It’s hard to find something that doesn’t exist.

I read about Kanaka Flat on Modern Hiker’s website, and by read, I really mean skimmed over the important stuff … important stuff like how to find the hike.

It was late in the afternoon so rather than spend more time looking for the elusive “Kanaka Flat Preserve,” we parked at the entrance to Volcan Mountain and decided to give it a try. My hiking partner for the day was my twelve-year-old son, CameraKid. I call him CameraKid because he’s been into cameras since he was seven and he’s freakishly good at photography.

Parking was easy to find along the road that leads to the preserve. For being Martin Luther King Day, the area wasn’t crowded. We passed a few hikers as they returned to their cars and a handful on the trail, but other than that, it was very quiet.

The hike started off easy as it followed a wide path up the first part of the mountain. Before long we came across a set of stone steps to the right of the path. This is where the Five Oaks Trail begins. I couldn’t resist the pretty steps, nor could I not take a trail that has “oaks” in its name. So this was the path we chose.

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The Five Oaks Trail is a nice little hike. The sign behind me in this picture describes it as a 1.2-mile “hikers only” trail that was built in 2003. As you might expect, there are oak trees along the path. But there are also beautiful Manzanitas and plenty of chaparral.

The views alone are worth hiking Five Oaks Trail. To the south, hikers can see the Cuyamaca and the Laguna Mountains. To the northwest, Palomar Mountain lies in the distance … and beyond that, the San Jacinto mountains. Furthermore, the recent rains have turned the hillsides and meadows a beautiful Irish green, making the spectacular even more so.

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This photo shows part of the view looking north. CameraKid tells me I need to use a real camera, not just my cell phone. Seeing how this photo does no justice for the real-life view, I think he might be right. He’s offered to teach me how to take good pictures and I’m going to take him up on it. He’s also giving me his “old” Nikon D5000. Did I mention he collects cameras? Birthdays and Christmases have been good to him.

Anyway, back to the hike. The trail gets pretty steep in a few places, but it’s well-maintained, making the going pretty smooth—unless you’re like me and had a few too many eggnog lattes and pieces of fudge over Christmas. I didn’t realize how out-of-shape my two weeks off of work and exercise made me until I found myself having to stop to catch my breath more times than I care to admit.

I’m not sure if we hiked the whole 1.2 miles of the Five Oaks Trail. It sure felt like it, but if there was any indication that it had ended, I missed it. We could have kept going and would have eventually reached the top of Volcan Mountain, but we didn’t. We turned around at about the halfway mark because we didn’t want to get stuck in the preserve after dusk, when it closes … and all the mountain lions come out to make supper of stranded hikers.

At least that’s what I told CameraKid. But he’s smart enough to know that I couldn’t have dragged my butt another 100 feet up that trail.

The hike down was just as beautiful. The clouds were building in the south of the county and it started to get chilly. Camera Kid and I had just enough daylight and energy left to stop and take advantage of a climb-ready oak tree off the side of the main trail.

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CameraKid taking his first-ever selfie.

In spite of my out-of-shape lungs and sore butt the next day, I would do this hike again. Next time, however, I want to give myself enough time to get to the top of the mountain.

Side note: With Volcan Mountain Preserve being so close to Julian, of course we had to make a detour to get some apple pie. It’s practically a crime to not stop for fresh-made Dutch apple pie … especially after a beautiful hike on a gorgeous day.

Here are a few more pictures from our hike.

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Manzanitas grace the Five Oaks Trail along with oaks, chaparral, and amazing views.

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My attempt at artsy.

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The trail we didn’t take.

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A silver lining.

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Near the end of the trail. Beautifully green!

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Taking a moment to catch my breath.

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Taking a moment to be a kid again.

Looking Out for Forest Fires

Smokey3Palomar Mountain in San Diego County has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Camping, fishing, hiking, winter camp … these activities have been the source of most of my favorite childhood memories.

A couple of years ago, I discovered a new-to-me mountain treasure—the Boucher Hill Lookout Tower. There has been a tower located on the site since 1921, so why I had never been there nor heard of it before then, I don’t know.

One day when I brought my boys to the lookout site, there were a couple of people working in the tower who called down to us that we could come up and take a look around.

I was amazed. Really? We’re allowed to go to the top of the tower and maybe even walk along the catwalk? Heck, yeah! I pushed aside my natural reluctance to make small talk with people and dragged my boys up the three flights of stairs to the cab of the lookout tower.

I was smitten. The view, the history, the location … does it get much better than this? I knew we’d be back.

On our next visit, we waited to be invited up by the tower lookouts. This time, I was in a more talkative mood. When I found out that the lookouts were married to each other, I had to ask: Are you both rangers?

They said people often mistake them for park rangers because of their uniforms, but they are actually volunteers. Wait—volunteers? Yep. And the organization was always looking for more. I knew from that moment that I wanted—needed—to be a volunteer forest fire lookout. So the couple gave me a phone number and email address and I went went down the mountain, head filled with visions of dressing up like a forest ranger and spending time in the fire tower.

I had to wait almost a full year; the training for the season had just ended and the next session wouldn’t be held until the following April. I was disappointed, but I didn’t lose interest.

I began my training this past April and I learned pretty quickly that there is a lot more to being a volunteer fire lookout than the uniform and sitting in a tower, looking for smoke. But I’ll have to save all that for another post.

Smokey the Bear photo by Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Association of State Foresters and the Advertising Council [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

O is for Oak Trees

IMG_8763I love trees. I admit, I hug trees—literally. I always have. We moved a lot when I was growing up, but I remember one house we lived in had a great climbing tree in the front yard. I spent hours in that tree; I would read on its branches, think, and conjure up stories I hoped to one day write.

Even my pen name, Eila Oakes, is a product of my love for trees… especially oak trees. One of the meanings of Eila is tree, or oak tree. Oakes, well, I don’t need to explain that.

The only trees I don’t like are palm trees. But that’s just because they are invasive to the natural landscape where I live. Palm trees in their native environment are lovely. It bothers me when I’m hiking, surrounded by beautiful, old, knobby oaks… then all of a sudden, there is a massive palm tree growing in the middle of it all. Go home, palm tree. You’re drunk.

Anyway, this is supposed to be be about oak trees because I’m on the letter O. I guess I can continue my gripes about palm trees when I write for the letter P, but I probably won’t.

I live in southern California, and I’m sure most people know that the state is in the middle of a drought. The drought, along with a deadly pest from Guatemala, called the Gold-Spotted Borer, has been taking out many of our beautiful, native oaks. This makes me sad. As it is, I don’t want to live in California. Being here would be unbearable to me without the option to get away and be surrounded by the trees I love so much.

What is your favorite tree?

N is for Nature

N is for Nature

I was baptized as a Roman Catholic when I was a baby, probably because my mom’s family was Catholic. We only went to church on Easter and Christmas, so it’s fair to say I was not raised in a Catholic environment.

By the time I was eight, I was attending a strong Protestant church with my stepmother’s family. So, what I’m saying is I know very little about Catholicism. I know even less about the saints of Catholicism. The only saint I know even a little about is Saint Francis de Assisi and what I know of him, I like him. I identify with the person he was said to be when it comes to nature.

I feel closest to God when I’m in nature. More than in any other setting, my heart is filled with gratitude when I am surrounded by trees, rocks, sky, animals… things not made by people. Saint Francis de Assisi was said to have been a man very much in tune to nature. He believed nature was made to praise its creator. He believed in protecting it and was said to have a unique bond with nature and animals.

He wrote the following hymn, which wasn’t published until 400 years after his death. I’ve never heard it before, so I don’t know how it sounds, but I do love the words. Enjoy!

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing:,
alleluia, alleluia!
O burning sun with golden beam,
and shining moon with silver gleam,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

O rushing wind so wild and strong,
white clouds that sail in heaven along,
alleluia, alleluia!
New rising dawn in praise rejoice;
you lights of evening find a voice:
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Cool flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for your Lord to hear:
alleluia, alleluia!
Fierce fire, so masterful and bright,
providing us with warmth and light.
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Earth ever fertile, day by day
bring forth your blessings on our way;
alleluia, alleluia!
All flowers and fruits that is you grow,
let the his glory also show;
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

All you who are of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part;
alleluia, alleluia!
All you who pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care;
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
alleluia, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, Three in One:
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Q is for Quatorzain

Q is for Quatorzain
A quatorzain is poetry of 14 lines.

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Beyond Oak Creek

Beside Juniper-lined trails
Away from the suffocating crowd
At each bend nature prevails
Under the cover of towers proud

Between arms of Emory Oak
Through the shade of Ponderosa Pine
Along the way red rock spoke
Of sentries posted in their design

Toward mesas rising high
Beneath guarded towering faces
With permission, I pass by
And into sunlit sandstone places

Thankful to be given the chance,
I sit and watch the shadows dance.

 

 

E is for Exploration

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Day Five of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

E is for Exploration

take my hand, come with me
we will go where the land
surrenders to the sea.
there we’ll find treasures lost–
iridescent trinkets
worn with time, turned and tossed

hold my hand, and we’ll go
where the sky reaches down
to the pines as they grow.
we’ll find a quiet place,
watch meadow flowers dance
in all their breeze-blown grace

take me to rocks of red–
layers of earth whisper
stories of those long dead.
we will seek, we will find
ancient paths made of stone
and journey where they wind

take my hand, hold on tight
we can be together
as the day turns to night.
the stars will understand
what i see in your eyes
if you just take my hand.

© Sara Jones 2014

B is for Beauty

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Day Two of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge


 

B is for Beauty
Beauty is the way the breeze blows through the brush on the hillside
Beauty is the blurred beating of a hummingbird’s wings
There is beauty hiding the sharp thorns of the burgeoning bougainvillea

Beauty is the way the golden Brittle Bush carpets the desert floor
Beauty is the beckoning branches of an old live oak tree
There is beauty waiting to escape the billowing clouds of the brewing storm

Beauty is the way the breaking waves batter the lonely shore
Beauty is the beginning of a new day blanketing the sky in blue
There is beauty reaching out from the broken rim of the red rock bluff

In such beauty, I find where I belong

 

 

Under the Oak Tree

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I find comfort in the shade of your arms
Like a child in a mother’s embrace.
And it was from childhood, you knew me.
Laughed with me,
Observed me.
Guided me as I wandered, discovered
The gifts you left me on the forest floor.
Gifts as precious as gems in my young mind.

I cried for you when my sister’s knife cut.
She carved her name and left you deeply scarred.
I fumed with anger when I saw you bleed,
And I knew
It caused pain.
Years later, the evidence of her crime
Remained, though faded and stretched with your growth.
In your own way, you remember my tears.

Now I have acquired scars of my own.
I, too, have bled from wounds that cut deeply.
You notice those scars and you cry for me,
As I did
Cry for you.
Just like you, the scars have faded with time.
I grow, and they become harder to see,
We share this- a bond that can’t be broken.

I am no longer the child you knew.
Yet, I return and know I am welcome.
Your arms reach wide, offering your shelter.
I take it,
Needing it.
Feeling as though I have stepped back in time,
I touch you- our souls again connecting.
Quietly, we rejoice in our union.

Your exterior beautiful with age,
Speaks of wisdom and long ago stories.
If only I could reach deep to your soul!
I would know
History.
I might see the little girl that was me
Before I became the woman I am.
A life that changed before your watchful eyes.

© Sara Jones