Lessons Of The Landscape

‘If we go somewhere on foot, we know the way perfectly, whereas if we go by motor car or airplane we are hardly there at all, it becomes merely a dream.’ – Chögyam Trungpa.

Last year at this time, my intention to get plenty of exercise in my free time was thwarted, mainly by breaking the frame on my road bike, though the wet weather did not help.

This year I have been doing a little better, and along the way, I have been contemplating Trungpa’s quote. As I have been walking, running, riding and driving, I have felt more and more immersed in the local topography. The crosstown trail last week brought home to me how San Francisco is a built-over and filled-in version of the whole landscape of the area: intricately folded land, with long ridges, deep valleys, and water coursing down the hills to form the huge wetlands of the bay.

A shorter walk I took on New Year’s Eve was part of my continued exploring of the area around Meadowsweet and Camino Alto that I started in the spring; I found trails taking me over from the north side to Horse Hill, with views back to the city, a pair of coyotes sunning themselves on the grassy slopes; working my way back to meet the top of Camino Alto, and back down the north side of the hill on the little residential roads.

Having only run once in about ten weeks after getting back from England, over Christmas week I managed three runs in the space of seven days, without feeling too beat-up. For the first, I was drawn back to Twin Peaks, as I have been on recent short bike rides around the city, still feeling that sense of home that I experienced a few months ago – and of course there is always the ineffable joy of having climbed to the top of something.

On Christmas Day in Marin, when the forecast was wet, I had another experience of plotting a new route on a map, and finding it differently challenging in real life – mainly as it took a lot longer than I expected; heading out into what shows on some maps as Baltimore Canyon, which ties in with the inscription on the old rail building nearby. It was damp and misty, though not actually raining, and the beautiful creek valley reminded me of Jumble Hole, with fewer rocks and more redwoods. I clmbed the back of King Mountain (alas the summit was gated off), and looped round to the fire road on the bay side – where, as with just about everywhere in this area, the sound of the 101 was most prominent.

My third run was at Wilbur over the weekend – the usual outing up the soft mud of the Smelter Trail as the sun was still warming the hillsides on Saturday afternoon.

I had gone up on Friday, via the 37 which arcs across the north of the bay, through wetlands; with Tam and Diablo dominating their quarters of the landscape, this is where the water cascades down to. The sky was blue, and the expanses seemed mesmerising. Heading up the central valley north of Vacaville, it was clear enough to see the snowy Sierras to the east.

For the first time at Wilbur, I was staying in the red house, in a quaint unevenly-floored room, directly above the fridges, the same kind which in the main building often amuse me when they  kick off in a deep harmonious set of hums.

It was pleasant when I arrived, but there was no sun down at the bathhouse – like at Tassajara through the winter, the hillside was too steep to allow it. In the morning, I woke to luminous clouds and frost.

There was no heat working on the yoga deck, and for the morning session on Saturday, the vents, which I could not find a way to switch off, were just blowing cold air down the back of my neck. Because I find the cold so challenging, I imagine others will struggle with it; the people who came took blankets, wrapped themselves up, and sat happily.

Afterwards I had my lunch outside on the deck of the red house, my back warmed back up by the sun, enjoying Frank’s company, such as he offers it.

Sunday, the weather was the opposite, mild, then, cloudy with drops of rain, that turned more steady as the day went on. I had a lot of time to be creative and productive with end of year tasks, but the sense of relaxation dissipated as I navigated the slippery road out, and three hours of fairly teeming rain all the way back, as the skies grew darker, reminding me of a similar return trip a little over a year ago.

On my bike, staying north of the city allows me an hour of headstart over my typical experience of well-known routes. I have been climbing the hills and riding through the valleys of Marin, the low temperatures down below – the San Geronimo Valley on Sir Francis Drake, Lucas Valley with the redwoods – giving way to warmth on the ‘sunlit uplands’ of Mount Tam on New Year’s Eve, and the grand open hills – which remind me of Cornwall – as I made my way out to the Marshall Wall on New Year’s Day, for the first time in several years. I would have stopped at the Bovine on the way back, but I was worried I would not get started again, and the line was already out of the door. I continued along highway 1, right on top of the San Andreas fault line, so visible from the air when I have flown back in to San Francisco.

The lessons of the landscape around here are the lessons of earthquake and water.

DSCF1719.jpgThe wetlands around highway 37.

DSCF1732.jpgSaturday dawn at Wilbur.

DSCF1746.jpgDifferently beautiful on Sunday morning.

DSCF1740.jpgMorning sun in my room in the red house.

DSCF1751.jpgA wintry afternoon going home.

DSCF1777.jpgMount Tam from Horse Hill on New Year’s Eve, close to where I saw the coyotes.

IMG_2154.jpgFirst light on the mountain, New Year’s Day.

IMG_2174.jpgThe winding road to Marshall.

IMG_2188.jpgHeading south on highway 1 beside Tomales Bay.

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