On the Trail – Sometimes the Wildlife is the Least of Your Problems
by Debra Chappell
View From the Hiking Trail:
Mood Reading: ZZZ’s (I know it’s just a piddly hour difference – but this daylight savings thing is kicking my butt. (I hate waking up when it’s dark – and often just don’t!)
It’s not that I don’t like those in the latter category, on the contrary. I have loads of friends who are not particularly keen on my over-energetic Boxer with poor sofa manners and a lightning quick tongue (attributes attractive perhaps in any other long-legged redhead, but less so in the 4 legged variety.) But if they’re strangers and in the “everyone else” category, I’m instinctively suspicious, at least as much of them as they are of my dog. And, if they lack a sense of humor as well, well….there’s no point in getting to know them now is there?
I’ve been running the hills behind our house for over 20 years. Our house is nothing grand, and certainly not pretentious, but we selected this plot of land to build on for it’s stunning views of the Sierra mountain range out the front, and it’s proximity to wide open spaces out the back. It conveniently backs to BLM and Division of Forestry land – 300 development-sidewalk-streetlight and vehicle free acres to be exact. And for all that time, I have literally gone out my back door to *run (*relative term) with the family dog – sometimes along the fire breaks and pathways that have been there forever, much of the time on trails that I or other neighbors have tramped down through years of jogging, snowshoeing, and hiking etc. Indeed, there is a clear path leading from this untamed, raw wilderness right to my back door, the result of years of my personal effort at overall health (and to offset the affects of my penchant for pasta and a good crisp Sauvignon Blanc.)
Over many years I’ve encountered herds of deer, more rattle snakes than I can count, roaming coyotes and even a mountain lion or two on these silent pilgrimages, but have always enjoyed the serenity and sacredness of this private ritual in nature’s majesty. So nothing surprised me more than the crew of Div. of Forestry guys I came across a few weeks ago carrying shovels, pick axes and newly minted directional signs, right in the middle of my secluded private land reserve. I was told by the foreman they were there to “clean up” and clear some of the trails (hello, not much to clean up – and they certainly weren’t blazing any new ones) and couldn’t help but notice the new fancy signs they were posting: “Clear Creek Trail” and “Summit Ridge Trail” respectively. Upon further investigation, I even noted the new John Muir-inspired official looking placards along these “trails”, pointing out the wildlife…oh brother. A huge bulletin board had been installed and thus a trail head created about 5 miles from our house where people can now park and have unlimited access to this here-to-fore isolated wilderness area, complete with cautionary signage about the “horse trailer turn around”. (Horse trailers for gawddsakes??)
So on a recent morning, aforementioned red-head (the four-legged variety) and I set out the back door for our daily *run.
I soon let Mocha off her leash, as is our normal practice, and as I’ve been doing for the better part of 20 years with one dog or other. Most of the locals do the same and if we encounter each other out on the trail, the dogs have a ball chasing freely around or the grumpier ones sort themselves out as we catch up on the neighborhood gossip, neither dog activity requiring much tending. On this particular day, as is her habit, Mocha went tearing off ahead of me. She usually waits for me but as sometimes happens, can get away from me temporarily. Since she always seems to know where she is and I am as well, I don’t much worry about her. So I’m jogging down the hill on the way back home and I get to one of the freshly installed signs that points the direction of the newly named “Clear Creek Trail” (otherwise known as my way home.) Since I can’t see her in the distance, I start calling for her (a futile exercise if ever there was one) but trust she’ll make it back to me eventually.
At about the same time, this couple appears on the ridge in their very expensive hiking gear right out of a Patagonia catalogue. They’re brandishing newly purchased high tech hiking sticks and sporting high end mountaineering boots, expensive looking backpacks, visors and are sufficiently equipped with compass, pedometer and requisite polyurethane water bottles as well as water-repellent sunscreen to boot. (I, on the other hand, am out there in my ratty old sweats, a tee shirt retrieved from the clothes hamper, beat up sneakers and an impressive case of bed-head and don’t think had even brushed my teeth yet.)
They heard me calling for Mocha and asked if everything was ok.
Me (smiling just a bit sheepishly): “yeah, just looking for my dog – a boxer – if you see her just tell her to go home. She’s friendly.”
Them: “Certainly, we will keep our eye out – do you think she’s lost?”
Me: “Oh no, she’s not lost, she knows her way home.”
The woman: “You know, you really should keep her on a leash. Dogs shouldn’t be running free out here. It’s not safe for them or for the other hikers using the public trails.”
The guy: “Yeah, they’ve just put in all these nice trails and I’m sure there’s a leash law. You really should keep her restrained.”
Bubble over my head: “WTF???? Who let you idiots in?? There’s 20 effing miles of open space, and rabbits, deer, quail and birds to chase – all of which you knew nothing about, not a thing before two weeks ago. GET THE F*** OUT OF MY BACKYARD and take your REI member coupons with you!!”
But I said (smiling as sweetly as I could muster): “Yes, well, um have a nice day. If you see her just send her my way.”
At which point Mocha came trotting over the hill right on cue, tongue and tail wagging, smiling her widest doggie smile, with that little hitch she gets in her step when she’s happy cause she’s been chasing all over kingdom come. The only thing that would have made it more perfect is if she’d gone over and peed on their frickin’ new Merrill boots!! She gave them each a sniff that mortified them both and they indignantly huffed their noses in the air as they set off swinging their hiking sticks in tandem.
I thought it was only neighborly to share a little local caution so called out after them “and if you see any mountain lions don’t worry – they’ll only give chase if you start running. Just back away slowly and make yourself look as big as….”
In any event, Mocha got an extra treat when we got back and I was rather flattered to think that the path I’d beaten to my own back door now has a formal name on the newly issued trail map.
As for the decked out hikers – not to worry. I’m sure they made it safely to the nearby Starbucks and duly recovered over a double espresso mocha latte frappucinno with two pumps, no water and extra soy.