Wednesday, November 13, 2013

That first winter feeling – Part 2

I had stated earlier that the cold and rain season was upon us. However, with temperatures this week in the late 60s and 70s in northern California--and with no rain in sight--I was wrong. Usually there's a sharp break, with the Indian Summer quickly graduating into early November cold. Somehow we're having a strange late quasi-Indian Summer. However, with the Harvest Festival at the San Mateo County this coming weekend, this weather seems to fit the mood.

Last evening, I was hiking in my usual walk through the northern Santa Cruz Mountain chain starting at twilight. Soon it was dark, and the moon illuminated the trails. There's almost something magical in how the moonlight (about 80-85% full) lights the trail only... while the brush, shrub, and forest remains dark. Still, in the wooded trails, the moonlight shines through the treeline... creating a beautiful panorama of light and shadow. The warm air, the illuminated wood, and occasional eye shine caught at the end of my flashlight beam.

Soon I was upon a spot in the trail where about ten weeks ago a tree had fallen. Strangely, very strangely, the thick lower stem seemed to just break in half. It had shredded in half like a popsickle or toothpick would if you snapped it in half. Initially the smell of cedar was strong, just like a cedar-scented box. About two weeks later, after a wet night followed by a warm day, the cedar smell was powerful. Last night though, it was almost gone.

Finally I made my way through the darkness to what I have started to call "Raccoon grove," where the woods turn to heavy brush, and a clan of about two dozen raccoons have made their home in the last year. About five days ago, although I am aware that many will doubt me since I have no photo evidence, about fifteen racoons met me directly upon the trail. I stopped, and they stopped. Some of them stood up on two feet, perhaps in an attempt to intimidate me. Finally I scrapped my shoe against the ground a bit, and they began to part to the side of the trail. Raccoons can never be taken lightly. They can weigh up to thirty pounds, possess powerful jaws and sharp teeth, and hands that can grasp with very sharp fingernails. Once I saw one which must have been at least forty pounds.

However, on this evening, they were more scattered. There are two young raccoons who are particularly curious that I saw yet again. About a week ago, they were both on two feet as I walked down the trail. They seemed to be concerned about something... as they kept looking down the trail ahead, and back to me again. Finally, like from a segment from a nature program, a baby raccoon galloped up the trail, turned next to the two older ones, and moved quickly into their brush den. Clearly, as though they were human, they were concerned about the little one... and me, being a potential threat.

A little further down the trail, I saw a thirty-pounder on the side of the trail. Raccoons are only really dangerous if they feel threatened, but I always am wary of them. I shined my flashlight back at it as I passed. I don't know if I ever really thought of a raccoon as a "beautiful animal," but that's how it struck me as my light illuminated the big animal. As I have stated before, I see them as like "little bears." The woods would be a ghost town without them.

I have noticed that the blackberry bushes are still ripe with blackberries. I have observed more blackberry picking this past year than I have seen before. However, I was thinking, aren't those blackberries supposed to be for the animals? Humans get angry if animals raid their crops; but aren't the blackberry bushes the "animals' crops?"

It's probably pretty safe to say that by two more weeks, the cold and rain season will be in full swing. I look forward to a few of those delightfully chilly morning hikes through the foothills. Although it's about four miles from the Pacific coast, the cold breeze is of the ocean... and I enjoy those morning coastal hikes at about nine-hundred feet elevation.

In Odinic tradition, November 11 is called "Ancestors' Blot." A blot is a Heathen ritual gathering. Over the last few years, I have sort've just non-voluntarily developed a ritual that I now call my "Yule walk." On a clear cold late-fall evening, I take a walk through a place where I feel a connection to the past. I may not really be able to put the feeling into words, but it's my own "ancestors' blot" you could say. I see the "Yule walk" as being an individual ritual. Only you know what day, time, and place works best for you; and what deep-timeless connections that you wish to make.

As with the sunny weather of late winter, I come to enjoy the early cold season once I incline myself to let go of the fall weather. For some unknown reason, I can really recall some harsh weather we had in the second half of November 88. It stuck in my memory because for the first time I remember the slightly ominous feeling that our ancestors must have had with similar November weather... with the knowledge that there was still months of similar weather ahead.

Living against the mountains.. during those dark rainy winter mornings... I love to look up at that great treeline, and into it's wonderful darkness. The one trail leading into it appears dark. The tall treeline, reaching up to one hundred feet, looks like a tall wooden fence against the side of the last paved road before the mountain assent.... guarding the mysteries of the mountain.


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