"The are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature." — Henry David Thoreau
I should admit this column was going to be another brilliant piece bashing the Middle Eastern policy of the Bush administration, in particular military madness and marketing mayhem, as George tries to justify bombing the hell out of Baghdad.I changed my mind when I realized even the game of kick the clown soon looses its appeal.
Tired of carrying the "Bush is bad" cross, this week, I decided a little joy was in order. As many readers would confirm, seldom do I talk about the small pleasures in life, instead focusing mainly on what is wrong with the bigger picture. Well enough of that. In all the hustle and bustle that is the chaos of 21st century America, there is one thing that can help restore a bit of calm to the collective mania of our lives.
Henry David Thoreau, the godfather of the American environmental movement, found solace and self-awareness in the simply act of walking. Granted this was at a time when sport utility vehicles could hardly be imagined, but still he reused carriages in favor of a natural and healthy alternative. Content with the mere pleasure of sauntering, Thoreau believed "every walk is a sort of crusade." And when he spoke of walking he was not talking about taking exercise, walking for him was about discovery and the renewal of spirit.
Now I realize those of us in coastal Southern California would be hard pressed to find the vast open countryside Thoreau was so enamored with. Where he could walk fifteen miles in all directions from his cabin on Walden Pond without seeing another home, we can't walk fifteen feet without seeing as many neighbors. This however is not to say meandering walks are not possible, the issue is now a matter of scope and diminished expectations.
Personally I know of quite a few first rate walks that offer not only exercise but a healthy dose of quality nature time. From Pilgrim Creek in Oceanside to Torrey Pines State Park in La Jolla, there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with California's natural history. Of course, this being the land of sprawl and crawl, those wanting to go for a walk will need to first drive to where the walking is good.
My favorite meandering is done at Encinitas's Indian Head Canyon. Steep hillsides offer a challenge that only adds to the experience. Set aside as a passive use park, in context of when and where we are, I'm sure even Mr. Thoreau would have found this intact sage scrub community more than sufficient when it came time to calming battered nerves. Save for a stand of Eucalyptus trying to destroy a riparian area, this park offers people of all ages a chance to get away from it all. After awhile you almost forget you are surrounded on all sides by McMansions, and a not so inviting municipal golf course.
Speaking of the Encinitas Golf Course, I wonder how many people know that celebration of all things turf is flanked by some incredible hiking trails. To be honest, when Encinitas Ranch was first developed I was skeptical in regards to their mitigation offer. But as hindsight always improves the view, and considering what could have transpired, it seems that the native space preserved and the public access provided is a major contribution to our community.
Providing nature space in the heart of suburbia is something we need more of. Often I write about suburban habitat being the ideal way of protecting native species. And there, tucked between the golf course and a busy strip mall is a prime example of how suburbia need not sprawl over everything in its path. By showing restraint, and allowing nature a place to just be nature, the biotic community is given a chance to pay it's own way in the form of breathing room, and an enhanced quality of life.
I invite everyone reading this to do themselves a favor and spend some time experiencing the open space trails of Encinitas Ranch. While there, if you're lucky and can let the rest of the world fade away perhaps you will have the pleasure of slowing down enough to hear the increasingly rare vocalizations of the California Gnatcatcher. Who knows maybe you will find the magic that comes from letting one foot in front of the other take you to a place inside yourself not yet traveled.
Thoreau did, and we are all better because of it.