This morning I went for a hike as I often do and the journey took my mind and spirit away. When I hike, I am usually filled with a great sense of contentment but there are times when gladness is accompanied with mixed emotions. This morning I watched as my mind made as many twists and turns, gains and losses in elevation as my body did through the miles. When I arrived at the trail-head this morning I was as usual, excited and happy to be ‘out there’. But as I walked into the seemingly pristine desert landscape, I couldn’t help but feel agitated by the traffic noise behind me. My eyes saw before me this wild and wonderful pristine place, yet my ears were flooded with sounds of several engines emanating from behind. I was awed by the sight of the morning’s first light upon the mountains, taken with the appearance of several birds and yet annoyed by a sudden fire-truck siren and a revved up engine.
What saves me, is that I am completely and utterly taken with all things wild and beautiful in nature. Just as one bird flies away from me my eyes shift to another, an American Kestrel perched atop an agave stalk or a wandering millipede and I am smiling again. After walking around two-and-a-half miles into the mountains, the noise finally begins to fade away. With no plan I walk, stopping for whatever catches my curiosity. Grateful for last night’s rain (actually, a light drizzle) I am ready for the unexpected.
After making friends with a large millipede I find a freshly laid Praying Mantis egg sack on the branch of a creosote. To my surprise the praying mantis was still on the branch which means she had just finished laying! I wasn’t at all bummed that I didn’t see it in action, though that would have been a bonus! I was still enthralled that I was able to witness the mother still at her egg-case site. She watched me carefully as I took pictures, moving her head at every new move of the camera or of me for that matter. The egg case, called an ootheca was foamy and moist-looking. She must have been tired! After taking a few more photos and marveling at her work, I thanked her and continued my way.
After walking across three or four hilly troughs, I find myself at the opening of a large winding arroyo abundant in desert willows, sage and cottonwood where I sit for a while to watch birds bounce about the thick brush. Bird-watching. You must have patience to be a bird-watcher, especially if your lens isn’t so great. And mine is not. But the practice of watching just for the sake of watching and not taking pictures is an extremely rewarding hobby, in and of itself. When I watch and wait for birds, my senses heighten above my already heightened senses that naturally occur when I am out in nature and in the midst of that awareness, I can’t help but feel a greater sense of oneness.
Patience is rewarded with a Pyrrhuloxia poised and ready. And then, another. Then a Black-throated Sparrow and a Rufus-crowned Sparrow make their appearance. I continue on my way, walking very slowly and find two more Pyrrhuloxia, one to my left and the other to my right. The one to my left is a female; she bounces in an out of an Ocotillo while the one to my right, a male, dances about a Sotol. Then, just as the trail began to make a sharp bend, a curious male Pyrrhuloxia flies to the stalk of an agave plant right in front of me. It is a lovely morning.
I join another trail that makes a loop back down, when I accidentally spook a large covey of Scaled Quail. I love knowing Scaled Quail are in the area. Throughout the hike I hear their very sweet two-toned call and it makes me smile. I make my way through the trail loop and cross atop large rock outcroppings, some of which cradle puddles of rain water. After rock-hopping over the large out-crops I find myself on moistened sandy soil once again and accidentally I spook a single Scaled Quail from behind the base of an agave plant. I stop to take a drink of water and check the time. I’ve been out for a few hours and it is beginning to warm up. I make the decision to take my time to head back down the mountain; it is just too pretty to leave just yet.
Another friend makes an appearance. This time it is a Red-spotted toad, he hops in front of me on the trail. Such resilient creatures; they don’t ask for very much, just a little rain, just a little and they emerge happily, hopping about. Heading back down I begin to feel a shift of emotions, feelings of protectiveness and hope of this place take over. I often feel this way when I leave a trail, especially in these mountains. I worry the developments surrounding the area will not end and that the wild-ness that is here now will someday be lost.
I am graced with a few more natural surprises, a baby Cophosaurus lizard, an American Kestrel and some fox tracks before reaching the trail-head and turning back towards the source of revving engines and freeways. These mountains are beautiful. BEAUTIFUL. Wild, wonderful but in danger.