We thread our way through a moving forest of ice-cream cones and crimson thighs. ~ Jean-Dominique Bauby
After weeks of temperamental swings between dusty dry heat and misty august rains, baby-blue skies heralded a pleasant morning on a recent August day. As the countdown toward Labor Day progressed, we knew the long lazy days of summer and seemingly endless outdoor opportunities were numbered; at least till next year. And so we quickly headed toward what we consider to be our own neighborhood park just 5 minutes away.
Taking a break from our regular programming. Today we hike!
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Edgewood County Park and Natural Preserve lies on the border of our city, an oasis in the middle of a dense peninsula. Over 460 acres acres of serpentine soil, Edgewood Park nearly lost itself to development including being turned into a golf course. It was saved (sort of in a way) by the Bay Checkerspot butterfly, a federally threatened species, in an unusual turn of evolution. Serpentine, a rare type of rock that can be traced in this area from as far back as 35 million years ago, is found in this park. Also the state rock of California, serpentine rock breaks down into soil that is actually poor in nutrients essential for plants. Over the millions of years, native (and many endangered) plants have evolved to thrive in this harsh soil and the Bay Checkerspot butterflies in turn, have evolved to depend on a few of these native plants for survival. The butterfly received federal protection around the time the push to develop a golf course nearly succeeded. The federal protection and rarity of serpentine grasslands helped supporters of the park save it, and shortly after it was declared it a Natural Preserve in 1993. Since then, volunteers of Friends of Edgewood have run programs including year-round docent-led walks, habitat restoration and managing the volunteer-funded Education Center. Without them, the park would not be what it is today, a welcoming city refuge.
With such promising weather, we opted for a new route, different from our usual one. What a good decision that was! We were well rewarded with surprises – from wide open fields still lush with wildflowers this late into the season, evidence of ancient earth movements and rock formations, even a fantasy-like grove that I secretly believe hides a gateway to a druid portal.
We started off on our usual Edgewood Trail at a familiar clip, steadily gaining elevation, taking every turn with a confidence that came with having hiked this path about three times a week for the last several months. At the junction to the fire road, the adventure began.
Continuing on Edgewood Trail, the trail kept on gaining elevation at a barely noticeable incline. We toddled on, avoiding lizards skittering across the narrow path, lost in our rhythmic reverie, when the trail opened up to large plains of dry grass, dotted with immense swaths of dainty but brilliantly white California Asters.
As we crossed the intersection with Serpentine Trail, several waist-high cairns marked beginning (or the end) of the path that cut across the field before making its way upwards onto the ridgeline.
On Sunset Trail a short way from the Edgewood Trailhead, we were surprised by a grove of low oak clustered close together around a clearing. A set of low benches-cum-storage boxes sat in the shade. Such a marked difference from the rest of the vegetation – it looked like a gateway to a fantasy world, a magic faraway land. I could almost imagine pixies tugging at the strands of my hair, elves noiselessly observing us unseen. Even the air felt different; cooler, wetter, with songs riding on the wind that floated from tree to tree.
Leaving the grove, Sunset Trail continued. Alluvial plains extended to each side of the broad path. Rivulets of alluvial flow laced the sides of the low hills, casting ribbons of gentle shadows in the mid-morning sun. As we rounded another corner, the plains became more evenly overgrown with grass. Nearby several lone oaks stood atop the hillock in overwatch, one side of the hill dried by the summer heat, the other still green from the dewy morns.
As we made our winding way down the Sylvan Trail, the trail began to narrow again, with poison oak crowding in in some areas. Though still mid-summer, some were eager to don fall colors, displaying golden and red and yellow leaves, daring passers-by to touch. Lovely to look at, but certain to cause a distressful rash in most people, the poisonous oak foliage intertwined with every trailside plant. Also in bright contrast to the green leaves but less disastrous to touch, the juicy drupe of California Coffeeberry in the summer heat and varying stages of maturity presented itself in green, yellow, orange, red and blue.
An underground stream must have been feeding into the forest, trickling quietly amidst the summer drought, quenching the habitat. We barely saw the trickle of water, instead hearing the whispering drip as we rounded a bend. We paused a while to appreciate the secret mist before continuing on in silent awe. Our steps felt a little bit gentler, lighter, more aware of how little we know of the world around us and how dependent on all things are on one another.
As the path continued its downward descent, it gradually opened up into low brush and open skies, the forest left behind. Warm sunshine once again awashed the grassland as lizards basked on heated stones, their chests held high, their little heads bobbing to a silent tune.
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