The journey through the San Joaquin Valley was an interesting one, providing experiences, conversations, and its own "ebb and flow" that will be invaluable in thinking about the trip and the questions I've been asking.
But the difficulty of walking on roadsides, the long and repetitive views along large farms and orchards, the skies hazy with clouds and particulates shading the relief of the sides of "the tub" (Sierra and Coast Ranges), all made for hard days and low spirits. I felt certain parts of the trip slipping a little, with resulting fear and frustration.
And so I admit the power of the senses, so loved and well described by Muir, to shape the kind of intellectual curiosity we often think of (and write about) as separate from the world of personality, of joy and despair, of dreams and wanderings. The intellect is not secular; Muir's belief in this likely helped lead to his success.
Today I began climbing the Sierra foothills in earnest, traveling from Coulterville at just over 1700 feet to a high point about 6 miles east of the town in National forest land around 3200 feet. Most of this climb came at once - I walked the uphill backward, still thinking of my Achilles injury, a decision I may regret tomorrow when the legs burn.
I spent much of the day trying to identify trees and shifting ecosystems as I move uphill. I began along Maxwell creek, thick with riparian shrubs, though surrounded by grassy and grazed ranchlands. As the climb began, I grew excited at the first Ponderosa Pine, a sign of the mixed evergreen forest that would dominate throughout much of the day. The understory was low shrubs and California Black Oaks, Quercus... the name escapes me at the moment. Higher still, conifers became more and more dominant, and at around 3000 feet Ponderosa Pines and Incense Cedars crowded the sky. On south facing sunny slopes Pacific Madrones crowded the roadside, looking like photos of an explosion. I crossed a few creeks, including two crossings of Bean Creek, whose water I avoided being clearly downstream of a mine. It is probably gold rush era and no longer in use, but the Bay still suffers from gold rush era mercury inputs, so I opted to remain unslaked. The road quickly became dirt and gravel, with only a few cars passing the entire day.
Returning to the forest today, I rediscovered the freedom I love about walking, which was lost a little in the San Joaquin. The time to stop and look, to think, and the absence of deadlines all seem so much more pronounced in the slow space of the woods. Coming from a series of long and dangerous days along roads, it felt like a breath of fresh air, or perhaps a cupful of non-mercury bearing water. And to cap it all, my first view of snowy Sierra crests, bringing happy shouts and arm swinging at my hilltop viewpoint.
Worth exploring further, today's road followed a tongue of private land extending deep into the National Forest land. This made for one very tense encounter with suspcicious landowners unused to scruffy walkers, and somewhat unwilling to accept my explanation. I can't blame folks in this part of the state for wondering why or how I came this far or what the hell it is I'm doing - I've yet to find a worthy tagline. To the point, the divisions between National Forest land and private land were quite marked, with the private lands telling tales of their use for grazing, lumber, &c.
This evening I've talked at length with Ken Pulvino, whose Greeley Hill residence is my internet, dinner, and lodging for the night, about some of these issues. Ken has filled me in about geotourism and his efforts to rename hwy J132 as the "John Muir Highway." Ken has filled me in a lot about the specifics of the area and the potential for economic and environmental alignment that might take place here. Thanks so much to Ken and Teri for the great hospitality and great conversation, I'll write more about thoughts and consequences of the latter when I've thought it all over more and sleep is not nagging quite so incessantly...