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Today was quite a day. My friend Wil, who I see only occasionally, had organized a hike on his property up at Dragon Ridge. Like everyone else in this county, he lives about an hour away, and it's hard to maintain a relationship at that distance. I had not visited his property in more than five years.

Much of this county is organized into "ranches", which are large expanses of land - typically about five thousand acres - which have been subdivided into individual parcels under a variety of legal frameworks to create a sort of community. This community will typically have a landowners association with varying levels of control, including the power to levy assessments, and the right and obligation to maintain roads, gates, and other low-level services. It's like a town or municipality, but with far fewer benefits. Some are gated, some are not. Some have electrical service, some do not. Some even have architectural codes, but that would be considered unusually controlling for this part of the state. A few of the ranches also have "commons", private wilderness areas with the right to pass but no right to change anything, and thus they afford residents the right to roam widely.

Where I was today was expansive and only lightly developed. We undertook a hike of about an hour and a half, through rolling hills that only marginally count as mountains, high above valleys of mixed meadows and forests, with trees of various types arrayed in great painterly swaths across the landscape.

At this time of year, the landscape comes in a million shades of color. Some old oaks, not yet leafed out, are still shaggy with heavy mounds of white lichen - gray and bearded, like old men. Others are bursting with brilliant green buds, while tardier species are still dusted in shades of red or yellow. The rocks underlaying it all, which consist of a crazy patchwork of diverse, loosely related sedimentary and metamorphic species, glisten in grays and blues wherever they have not already crumbled into soft brown soil.

I was able to point out to Wil something not even he had noticed before - a tiny calypso orchid, all shy and pink and frilly, so easy to overlook that we nearly crushed it with our boots. (The ancients believed that orchids sprang from the semen of mating animals, which seems so much more plausible than the crazy symbioses that science has identified.) Another hiker came up with an interesting mushroom, a false morel, similar to the gourmet's favorite but notable for its deadliness. Unlike most toxic mushrooms, it does not kill the hapless diner, but rather the errant chef, who on cooking it will likely succumb to its deadly fumes of hydrazine and die face-down in his own frying pan.

I have been in this county for five years now, but never before have I so clearly seen the hand of the Divine in laying out this landscape. In a place undisturbed by human activity, with scarcely a hint of it in sight, the order of nature was plain to see. Over here, a copse of twelve trees, not quite leafed out, all sharing the same shape and form, pirouette their limbs with the precision of a ballet troupe. These might drift into a stand of tall firs, which then yield to a patch of flaming scarlet red-buds. Everywhere, carpets of wildflowers - great sweeps of tiny white and yellow and purple things, lost in the grass, the blooms hardly large enough to see as individuals. The first few irises, the unfurling of moss as it drinks up a rainshower, the tiny white bells of the manzanita...

I am still, in my mind, staggering drunkenly through this fairy-tale landscape. It infects my very soul, and will never leave me. This time is so brief - just a couple of months, at best, when nature goes mad with abundance - and so hard to believe in once it has passed. It will be only a few weeks before the rain stops, the sun beats down, and it all returns to the crinkly browns and dusty sage of the summer.

This time around feels special. Every drop of rain is a blessing, every unfurling leaf a tiny miracle. Never have I felt the transient, fleeting springtime so keenly as I have today.
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August 2013

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