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Creek Running North
October 11, 2003
Longing desperately for the Mojave yesterday, I decided to haul myself up the hill to the botanic garden in Tilden Regional Park. The Tilden Bot is a more than half-century-old collection of California native plants, arranged in regional fashion - Sierra meadow plants in one spot, Channel Island plants in another, and so forth.
The Mojave section is smallish, a few dozen yards of large gravel arranged into three or four mounds. In this section are the closest Joshua trees to my house. I sat and meditated at the trees for a while.
There's something comforting about the Tilden Bot Garden. I've been visiting for the last 20 years, more or less, and the place has shaped many of my images of what California native plants ought to look like. There are manzanitas along the creek with tortured red boles, tall and funereal Santa Lucia firs, vast beds of deergrass. But I never spent much time in the Mojave section. The Mojave's flora is unprepossessing. It just doesn't look like much until you spend some time out in the desert, and often not even then. But fall in love with the desert, and the sparse buckwheats and tentative yucca shoots and dusty agaves and nolinas in a small Bay Area botanic garden Mojave section can bring on something reasonably close to homesickness.
So that's what I was feeling as I crossed the road toward the parking lot. I looked up the hill a bit, at the grassy expanse next to the garden where Becky and I were married, and vowed to get out and south and sunbaked before November.
The snake was at the other end of a little footbridge over the headwaters of Wildcat Creek, which I had to cross to reach the truck. I saw it as I stepped onto the bridge, and it saw me, or at least felt my footstep vibrating through the planks. Snakes are not generally known to have asses, but this one hauled his, flailing wildly until it reached the leaf litter at the other end of the bridge, then pulling itself incompletely under the leaves. I saw about four inches of thin black body, thin yellow stripe. The snake was apparently persuaded that if he couldn't see me, I couldn't see him. I chuckled all the way back down the hill.