Assigned writing 101 — Day two.
My two best friends – Bob Zimmerman and Dr. Doug Martin — first took me to the Point Reyes National Seashore sometime back in the mid eighties. We were on a drive up from Berkeley, just showing Massachusetts me around, up to the Russian River, over to the coast at Jenner, then down the coast highway to Point Reyes. We drove all the way out to the lighthouse – the weather changing along the way from sunny and beautiful to windy, cloudy, and scary – and walked around out there a little while. Doug, with polio, did his walking in his wheelchair. After a while we drove back past the dairy farms that cover the peninsula and back to the city.
Both of those friends are gone now, having left the planet seriously diminished in their absence. I miss them. But I took the wonder of that day trip and have made a number of journeys back out to Point Reyes, both while on vacations visiting Bob and while living in the East Bay for a year and half in 2006/2007, when I was the Director of an adolescent treatment program in San Francisco. I have driven north out of Oakland and over the Richmond Bridge many times, stopping for a sandwich at Safeway along the way to stick in my backpack at the Bear Valley parking lot and begin a day hike up the Bear Valley trail to the Divide Meadow, and beyond toward the sea.
This little story – honoring a place – could easily focus on the Divide Meadow (that is the enclosed photo) or Arch Rock at the Pacific. They are spectacular, spiritual, fully engaging spots. But one day, after resting on a bench above the meadow, I noticed a sign in back of the bathrooms there, and when I went over to check it out I discovered the Old Pine Trail. And I took it. It goes up for a ways, twists through a small meadow, then up again until it becomes a long, rolling walk about six feet across, between unending stands of Douglas Firs that tower above on both sides. Eventually the trail dead ends into the Sky Trail, take a left toward the ocean, take a right toward Mount Wittenberg.
So much for the park pamphlete-like brochure. The first time I walked the length of the Old Pine trail I was absolutely knocked out with the beauty and awe and reverence I felt. I took a left at the end that day – and most of the other times I went back – and that becomes a 12 mile hike from the parking lot and back there again. The Old Pine Trail has no pines along the way, just amazingly tall and ‘just there’ douglas firs. Rarely there is a break that allows a look toward the rolling ridges to the east, and just before the end of the trail the hint of the Pacific northwest through the trees. I cannot say how many times I have walked that trail, five or six or seven, and in all those times have only seen three or four other people. Talk about a best kept secret. A blue, no green, highway. To be there alone, and alone, is a wonder. Words like grace and dignity and gratitude say a little about the experience.
On the Sky Trail toward the ocean you walk through one eco-system after another, a kind of time travel all in the same place. Once, coming down from Mount Wittenberg a large group of loud hikers pushed me up an unknown path seeking quiet again, and I came upon a herd of deer truly amazing – brown, white, spotted, large, small. Standing quietly up ahead through the burning off morning haze. I would not have seen them if there wasn’t noise to escape. And, in fact, I would not have seen them or the eco-systems or all the other wonders from the Sky Trail if I had not, almost by accident, found and taken the Old Pine Trail.
It was another New England guy who once wrote about two paths: “I took the one less traveled by.” I was lucky. Because that is what I did. And it did make a difference.