A couple of random notes before tackling today’s photos - and then remember, there's an audience participation exercise at the end of it all ….
First: In regards to the previous post, several people – including my wife – asked if I or my kids kissed any of the banana slugs. Apparently it’s a some kind of rite of passage among outdoor enthusiasts and/or crazy UCSC college students. What nobody seems to agree on is what precisely happens (aside from the obvious result of being grossed out) if you kiss a banana slug. I seem to remember hearing that the slug’s toxins caused temporary paralysis of the lips or tongue, but others think you just get a mouthful of slime. If anyone has personal experience that might settle this discussion, that would be fantastic.
(If only we knew an outdoor enthusiast who goes to college in Santa Cruz. Can somebody get Addy to come weigh in on this?)
Either way, the answer to the question was “no”, but that’s not to say I’m completely excluding the idea for another day - because now I’m intrigued. I just have to figure out which kid I can talk into trying it first.
Second: On the day that I took the following pictures, it was raining – just as it was the previous day, and the one before that, and … you get the idea. Anyway, while I was mentally framing the photos, one recurring thought I had was how much more beautiful the landscape looks after a good rain. From there, it was a short mental leap to the classic Ladysmith Black Mambazo song, “Beautiful Rain”, which then bounced around in my head the entire afternoon.
I hoped to find a video of that song for my sidebar – only to realize that the song came and went long before the advent of YouTube. So I’m doing the next best thing: I put the song in an mp3 below that you can click and listen to while reading. And just because I’m feeling generous, on the sidebar you’ll find one of the high points in the history of children’s television: LBM singing the alphabet song on Sesame Street. The next time anyone tells you that TV is an educational or cultural vacuum, feel free to cite this video as a sharp rebuttal.
All right, enough intro. On with the post …
Undoubtedly, my race schedule this year will take me through some beautiful geographic areas that I haven’t visited before – so lately, it’s occurred to me that I’d like to try and capture some images of those journeys whenever possible.
The problem, as I’ve explained before, is that I usually don’t run with a camera. We only have one digital camera in the family, and I’m reluctant to take it on the trails and risk getting it muddy, sweaty, or broken from a fall.
Several weeks ago, I thought my problem was solved, from a most surprising source: my employer.
Last year was my 10th anniversary working for this company, and I recently received one of those “Since we can’t give you a raise or promotion, please select an item from this catalog to show you how much we appreciate you, employee #2056!” mailings that larger corporations are fond of. One of the items was a small digital camera - and I figured since the CEO was picking up the tab, it was at least worth a shot.
The camera arrived, but I have to say I’m disappointed. It’s difficult to use, the owner’s manual is one of those indecipherable rebuses, and the picture quality is terrible. Coincidentally, it’s made by the same company that produces my son’s Smart Globe, and something called the Barbie Little Learner Laptop – so technologically speaking, I guess my “award” is just one notch above a Fisher-Price Talking Click Camera. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.
But the camera has two things going for it: 1) It fits inside my solo camelpack, and 2) If it gets grimy with sweat or mud, it’s no big loss. So I thought I’d give it a try on a recent trail run, and post some pictures here for review.
(Now’s the time to cue the music)
I gave the camera a test spin at Toro County Park, a 4700-acre open space located on the main thoroughfare between Monterey and Salinas. The predominant features of the park (besides the landscape) are herds of cattle that roam and graze among the grassy hills and oak-strewn valleys.
The rain had stopped just prior to my run, and the sunlight was doing amazing things through the clouds and trees. If you enlarge this picture, the rays streaming through this tree make the whole scene look kind of artsy, like a mother and child in repose. Except, you know ... in this case the mother and child are cows.
I also managed to catch this cool rainbow. All in all, it’s not a bad way to start a run.
Just a few minutes into the run, the trail passes below one of my favorite trees in Monterey County. In the summer and fall, this tree displays about 100 brilliant shades of green, yellow, red, and orange. In the winter, it reminds me of the Whomping Willow at Hogwarts, with its branches reaching down to the ground to pluck me into its limbs if I don’t pass underneath quickly enough.
After a couple of short climbs, vistas like this are fairly common: rolling hills, small cliffs, lush vegetation. The town of Salinas is barely visible in the background – but by this point, I’ve pretty much forgotten all about it.
John Steinbeck was probably standing somewhere close to this very spot when he famously described this area as the “Pastures of Heaven”. I can’t really phrase it any better than that, so I won’t even try.
Nearly every time I run here, something like this happens: cows settle in wherever they see fit, even if it’s directly across the path I’m trying to follow. If several of them are gathered at once (as in the first picture), I have to tiptoe and dance my way around them to follow the trail to the other side. Once, the cows were bunched together so tightly that I had to tap them on the backside in order to weave through.
The cows never seem to mind my presence; in fact, I can usually walk right up and say how-do-you-do.
Many open spaces in Monterey County have scenes like this: old pioneer stables, corrals, or farm houses, echoes of an earlier time. They’re a nice reminder of the way of life that once existed here, and I always find myself thankful that they’ve been left relatively undisturbed in the ensuing decades.
Heading back toward my starting point, the path takes me down a ridgeline with views like this on either side. I frequently do this run at midday – and when I’m passing through this kind of scenery, sometimes it's extremely difficult to drag myself back to the office for the afternoon.
Inevitably though, I end up back at my car, and all that’s left is to say goodbye to the cows. It’s never a heartbreaking farewell, though – because I know I’ll see them again soon.
(OK, audience participation time!! Obviously, I’m not blown away by my freebie camera. If anyone has recommendations for a camera that is 1) small, 2) cheap, and 3) takes decent pictures, I’d love to hear them. Comment or e-mail me with your suggestions.)