This blog is closed. For more recent content, visit Chris Clarke's new site Coyote Crossing.

Creek Running North

<< Useless stats of the day | Main | Air America >>

January 05, 2005

I am the master of all cows!

I have been unspeakably tired the last few days. I'm getting enough sleep: between six and eight hours of it a night, and I can get six hours' sleep a night for weeks on end and feel fine. I'm not sick, at least not enough to notice. I'm not sad, despite an abundance of reasons to be sad. Becky and I are doing great, and the animals are a constant source of joy and mess.

But by ten in the morning, I'm ready for a nap.

So I only hiked about seven and a half miles yesterday, with a long loafing break about three miles in as a special indulgence to celebrate my 45th birthday. I was at Sunol Regional Wilderness, a startlingly rugged former ranch east of San Jose, and a favorite spot of Becky's and Zeke's.

The ground was thoroughly saturated and dotted with cow pies. I snoozed on a bench hidden among the oaks, in a spot where I've camped with Becky and Matthew. The hills were verdant, and their bones poked through in licheny outcrops: greenstone, fossiliferous Briones Formation sandstone, basalt. Moss was thick and flowering.

There's a steep rocky canyon marked at its base, where it joins Alameda Creek, by a large sycamore in the shape of a "W." A decade ago Becky and Zeke and I descended the "W Tree Rock Scramble" over the course of a day, losing 600 feet in half a mile, hanging on to flakes of rock as we lowered ourselves down dry falls. One twenty-foot drop about mid-way seemed impassable: we went up and around on a crumbly bank above, holding for dear life onto poison oak branches. Zeke tunneled through the poison oak, and I shoved him into a deep pool at the bottom of the canyon to wash some of it off. I think he might have finally forgiven me for that just last month.

Yesterday, that dry canyon was a chain of roaring waterfalls. I stood at the head of the canyon – after rousing myself from my little nap - and grinned like a fool at the music.

From the bottom of the Alameda Creek canyon, I had looked at the ridgelines, felt that deep bone-level fatigue, and quailed. After an hour or so of patient, weary plodding I was surprised to see that I stood at the highest point I'd seen from down below, high enough to see the Bay glint over the shoulder of Mission Peak. Cows blocked my path, moving only after I warned them that I ate their kind.

Heading downhill toward the truck in Indian Joe Creek canyon, I came to a fallen tree across the path. Half the tree was fallen, I should say: the other half stood tall and healthy, a good hundred feet of canopy above my head. I saw the tree's whole life play out before my eyes: a deer browses the top bud of a sapling, and two shoots grow from the wound. They are both vertical, and when they widen they press together, forming a weak bond of rotten bark and old dead tissue. Disease takes one shoot, leaving the other to grow a collar of new bark around the wound where its sibling tore away. Eventually the tree stands with an odd flaring at its base, six feet wide and three across. There was a moment halfway through the tree's life where the dead shoot had just fallen, bridging the creek, and an odd beast in pile clothing slouched up to it, traced a row of yellow shelf fungi with a finger, placed a paw on the healthy section's bark, and went off to find his truck, stopping along the way to stand in mid-creek to see if his hiking boots were still waterproof.

That beast had just reset his hiking odometer, it being just after the new year. At the end of the day I was up to sixteen miles for the year, a cumulative walking distance – as one commonly-repeated and hard-to-verify statistic would have it – the average American will not reach until mid-March, even including trips between the television and refrigerator.

Then Becky took me out to dinner, where I ate part of one of the cousins of the cows that had blocked my way, and then fell dead asleep in my chair at 8:30. Happy birthday to me.

Posted by Chris Clarke at January 5, 2005 01:09 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

0 blog(s) linking to this post:

decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs


"I am the master of all cows!"

I know a couple of Holstein bulls on a farm in Vermont that are the size and temperment of Aurochs.
Want to meet (or try to "meat") them?

Posted by: OGeorge at January 5, 2005 04:42 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

julie and i are lucky if we do a mile and a half each day. but, then, the high temp on the ridge today was 4 degrees with 8" of new snow on the ground. lame excuse, i know. your encounter with the cows (COWS in a WILDERNESS area?) reminds me of an adventure we had a few years back in Veedavoo (WY). but you would expect to find cattle in wyoming. angry cattle. not to mention the dead one in the creek. cowboy up!

Posted by: ric at January 5, 2005 07:54 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

As a bit of unsolicited advice, I would recommend not taking OGeorge up on his offer. Holsteins make terrible meat animals, even the bulls. They're all bone. The best you can hope for is a few hamburger patties.

But, happy birthday!

Posted by: Robert at January 5, 2005 09:02 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Funny about the fallen tree bit. The available trees in your part of CA are so dramatically different from each other that I had trouble visualizing without knowing which type it was. I think I unconsciously made it a live oak, just to get thru. But I suppose it could have been a conifer. Or given the other non-natives you encountered, even a eucalypt.

A reason not to study trees to much: You lose the ability to just read "tree" and go with it.

Hey, happy birthday. Good to have you back in the green world.

Posted by: Jarrett at January 6, 2005 12:40 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs


Is it really your birthday!? Happy birthday, then. And 45. Goodness. I'd've never guessed.

I was going to write about this last night but ran out of time and energy - one of my most favorite couples gave birth yesterday to a little boy. Charles should be honored to share his birthday with you.

Posted by: Siona at January 6, 2005 10:04 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Happy Day Chris! may your dreams be manifested in many ways this year.

Posted by: Susurra at January 6, 2005 12:27 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Any port in a storm Robert. Holsteins are indeed boney, but they've got a little more meat than a cat or a monkey. Myself, I haven't eaten a fellow mammal in more than 25 years.

Posted by: OGeorge at January 6, 2005 02:47 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Oh...sorry Chris...I've posted twice already and still haven't said Happy Birthday! 45! I've moved 7 times since I was 45.

Posted by: OGeorge at January 6, 2005 02:49 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Well, Carl, I moved 28 times before I was 45, and I'm hoping for a break in the routine.

My birthday is actually on 1/4, Siona, so your new nephew has the day to himself still.

And thanks for the good wishes, all. Any year that doesn't start with me being killed in a tsunami is a good one as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at January 6, 2005 02:54 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Oh, and Jarrett: live oak it was.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at January 6, 2005 10:17 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

A reason not to study trees to much: You lose the ability to just read "tree" and go with it.

Now, see, when I read "tree" I just think "natural resource I can kill and sell for profit". Same as when I read "cow", "poison oak", and "uncle".

(The last two might require some finagling, but that's what we master exploiters are best at.)

Happy birthday to the eldest grandchild from the eldest greatgrandchild. I love you.

Posted by: Allison at January 6, 2005 10:28 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Geez, i thought you were a lot older than that. I don't know why. Guess I didn't do the math right during your "J." series. Well, happy belated birthday anyway. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may and all that.

Posted by: Dave at January 7, 2005 04:17 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

If he was older than that, then I would be older than I am, and I don't want to get old any faster than I am. Eldest child.

Posted by: Rita Xavier at January 7, 2005 05:35 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

hey chris…happy birthday…i thought you were at least
80. huge oak tree fell across my road on the day of
the asia disaster. felt like the whole world was
falling. next time you get a check-up, ask them to
check your B12 level. i couldn't stay awake for 6
months & nobody could figure out what was wrong.
when they did,i took shots for a while and now
take "sublingual dots" every day. whew !
scared me. write on (baby) bro.

Posted by: sk at January 7, 2005 08:38 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Yeah, when I was in the hospital, they said I have anemia, so gave me B12 shots, and prescribed folic acid, which I now take.

Posted by: Rita Xavier at January 8, 2005 01:26 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs