Sheep Camp Trail Revisited

The light gray gravel was cold under my bare soles in the early September pre-dawn stillness. Several cotton-tailed bunnies were nibbling on tender damp herbs and grasses at the sides of the old road. Today they were wary, and scampered into the manzanita and sage brush on the far side of the barbed wire fence--at times my bare feet make such little noise I can come within six to ten feet before being noticed. About ten minutes into my hike, a row of pines on a nearby hill caught my eye off to the right--the first reddish rays of the sun were making them stand out brilliantly against the clear blue California sky. The surrounding vegetation was still a dull monochromatic grayish green. I leaned on my staff for a few minutes and watched the brilliant sunlight crawl almost imperceptibly down the top branches of a lone scrub oak. In a pine thicket to my left, an awakening flock of small birds was beginning to flit about and chatter amongst themselves.

As I topped the small hill the deep blue waters San Andreas Reservoir came into view between the pines. This morning the usual fog bank was absent at the top of the Coast Range. Just beyond the fence a profusion of large stalky yellow flowers with dark brown centers were facing the rising sun--they almost reminded me of road signs or railroad semaphores. I peered into an almost hidden hollow in a roadside thicket of scrub oak and noticed the tangled, twisted branches were side-lit by the sun's unusual low angle, the early light still reddish but rapidly changing. The downhill section of the road became a bit more difficult for my bare feet--scattered gravel on deteriorating asphalt. Some fairly clean sections of the old pavement felt a lot like a thick woolen Oriental carpet. I had time to make it all the way down to Canada Road, and tramped through an expanse of fine gray dust to leave a single perfect bare foot print on a dark section of new smooth asphalt (a Mike Berrow Calling Card).

Barefoot hiking uphill is considerably easier for me than downhill; the old pavement section was no problem on the way back. Glanced again into the scrub oak hollow, and sure enough, the redness was completely gone from the light, and the branches were becoming flat and ordinary-looking as the sun rose higher. The light gray gravel was already beginning to feel warmer, and it was easy to pick out my bare foot prints in the dusty sections among all the shoddlie prints. It occurred to me again how much lighter and finer is the print made by bare soles as compared to waffle-stompers, and even tennis shoes. (The ecological damage done by one pair of hiking boots equals that of ten pairs of bare feet? I suspect the ratio is even higher.)

Another wooded glen just off the road made me think of a gloomy grayish-green cathedral interior, Spanish Moss hanging from gnarled oak branches. Further up the road, now brilliant full-strength sunlight backlit a wall of deep green serrated oak leaves and red poison ivy just across the fence; no human made stained glass window could be finer. The cotton-tails again scattered at my approach, and I stopped for a moment to admire another flock of small birds as they chirped and chattered deep within the brush. Their day was just starting, and now so was mine, as I climbed into the car for the drive to work.

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