QUAIL MUTTERINGS #3. The Meadow – March 17, 2011
The canyon sides are highlighted in blues, purples and violets: the colors of native lilacs blooming. Ramona and Lakeside lilacs and other Ceanothus are indigenous to this area. There are literally hundreds of them in full bloom right here in this valley. When I go outside first thing in the morning or just before dark in the evening, the air is pungent with their sweet aroma. It’s fabulously intoxicating.
Last week I picked up my friend’s twelve-year-old son from school and brought him home with me. She was away for the day and it gave us a chance to hang out together. For longer than I care to admit, he’d wanted to try his hand at milking a goat. After enticing the better behaved goat up onto the milking stanchion I demonstrated how it was done: gently encircling my thumb and index finger above the teat and then lightly squeezing down through the nipple, one finger at a time, descending against the palm of my hand just below the base of my thumb. This is performed slowly and rhythmically, alternating hands, one on each side of the udder. Christian got the hang of it quickly, squirting streams of white nectar into the stainless steel bowl.
Now it was time for a hike. My daughter, Kali, and two-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Ian, joined us for the trek up the mountain. On the way up we pass the caged gardens. Even the tops are fenced to keep out the four-legged, chirping, bushy-tailed vegetable robbers. The fruit trees are beginning to bloom and are waking up to the spring.
Half-way up the slope I point out a boulder that’s shaped like a giant bird looking over its domain with wings tucked in. I tell Christian that in the late 1970’s the other half of this huge boulder split off and rolled down the mountainside crushing trees and bouncing off other rocks before finding its final resting place below, shoving massive mounds of dirt around it. My grandparents happened to be home at the time and heard the mighty crashing.
On practically every step we take there is a blue lilac blossom at nose level. We revel in the experience. The path is richly green with the new growth coming forth with powerful determination. This trail may need some clearing soon.
Up on top of the south mountain is a marshy meadow which sits in line between Iron Mountain and Cuyamaca. Biologists in the area have deemed this a very unique, unusual site sitting on top of a mountain. The lush, diverse grasses sprouting in the meadow are typically found only in low-lying, wetland areas. But here we have it, this paradise for the deer and other animals to enjoy along with us.
An outcropping of large, flat boulders lay just beyond. We walk gently across the marshy meadow to the view points on the rocks. From there we can see San Vicente Lake and Kimball Valley straight ahead; Iron Mountain and Mt. Woodson to the west; and Cuyamaca to the east. We usually come up here at least once a month and almost always on Christmas afternoons. Three members of our extended family have been married on the property, two of them on the meadow. Kent and I had our ceremony with our friends and relatives standing in a circle holding carnations.
Using Christian’s phone I take pictures of him standing on top of these massive flat boulders with the blue mountain ranges beyond as the backdrop. He sends them to his mom since, amazingly, there is cell reception up here on top of the world. We know she’ll appreciate this.
On the hike back down we notice the oaks are blooming. The yellowish-orange, caterpillar-like blossoms hang dutifully from the dark green branches of the Live Oaks. They won’t stay long before drying-up and crumbling to the ground below. But right now they’re soft and feely to the touch. Grandson, Ian, likes them. Each tree looks like it’s wearing thousands of dangly, golden ear rings.
Coming around a turn in the trail a whirring in the brush startles us. We’ve surprised a covey of quail, dozens of them, flying down the mountainside for cover. It seems there are a record number residing in the canyon this year. I often hear them when I walk outside: their sharp, trill “aah chews” muttering in the bushes. I’ll wait and watch the families parade over the rocks, the male sprouting his head feather on top and the females hovering close. I’ll listen to the loud, incessant calls to others before the group takes off in flight announced by the loud whirring of quail wings flapping.
It’s nice to have company to share this with. Hopefully, the children in particular, take something important from these hikes which can instill a life-long stewardship of our natural world. And, perhaps, through watching their innocent curiosity, we adults can pick-up on this enough to slow down and be there with them. So why not take the opportunity to borrow a friend’s son or daughter, or your own kid or grandchild for that matter, and meander into our own Valley of the Sun’s backcountry.