“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
Summer has almost closed its door when we arrive at Muir Woods north of San Francisco. We see people strolling on a wooden walkway built to protect the plants, the giant sequoias’ roots and other life from damaging human feet. As I gaze up at spires of towering trees bound for the heavens, I wonder how human feet can injure their roots. We’re so tiny in comparison, yet we make a big impact.
We walk below a wooden archway at Muir Wood’s entrance. A placard suggests silence. Instead, we hear a mix of loud and soft chatter, mingled with laughter. We probably won’t be silent, but we will try to be quiet so we can hear the birds speak. What other animals will we see? Hear? I hope we’ll see more furry and feathered friends after we leave the wooden walkway and venture onto the dirt trails branching off like living tributaries.
Instead of the shorter Ocean View trail, we look for the trailhead for the Bootjack Trail. As we climb uphill, we see fewer people and I smile. Finally, we enjoy silence and my back feels damp under my jacket. Soon I hear a happy gurgle from a whisper thin creek below. With California’s drought, we didn’t expect any water. The creek’s singing is like a soundtrack inspiring me to continue climbing higher and higher.
The creek runs into a giant boulder, draped in moss and lichen, where a small waterfall trickles down. We gingerly step down so we don’t slip into the creek or touch any poison oak.
Some of the many footbridges have split wood railings on the side, while others are strips of wood nailed together to form a plank bridge. Volunteers cut wood and nailed the logs together to make bridges for people they will never meet.
At one point, boulders surround us and I feel a bit claustrophobic as we continue to climb. A gray-brown salamander scampers along a grey rock ahead of me, followed by its equally skittish friend. I’m glad they are small as they are close enough to touch.
We finally reach the top of Bootjack Trail. Instead of retracing our steps, we take another trail back. We zig and zag, switch back and forth on a trail so narrow and steep, my toes scold me at every sharp twist and descent for forgetting to pack my thick hiking socks.
Several different birds caw and chirp. A quiet wren pokes inside a fallen log along the trail.
We can’t see anyone, but we hear two voices speak and laugh. The noise pierces our reverie. Even the birds seem to stop warbling. Rocks, pebbles and raised tree roots impede our escape so we still hear their chatter though we can’t see them.
The switchbacks end and the trail widens and the incline becomes more gentle. It is quiet and I exhale.
I notice a flicker move on a hill to my right where trees and large shrubs abound. Patches of gold glow through the trees’s green woven web like a lace veil. My eyes become a searchlight, scanning back and forth until I find it: a dark brown deer with two nubs on its head. I tap my husband’s shoulder and motion for him to stop.
The deer lifts its head above a tall shrub as if he senses our quivering presence. I want to capture his image but each time I push the camera’s button, it stalls and loses focus. After several failed attempts, I stop trying to capture the moment and let the moment capture me. Before I can surrender, the deer waves his own white flag as his upturned tail disappears into the woods.
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