Summer in the Chaparral
By Kat Avila, first published 25 August 2012, LatinoLA.com
sign
2010.6.19
Walking down the sidewalk, I pick up a plastic shopping bag, a deflated green balloon with a long ribbon tail, and an eco-poisonous cigarette butt. I throw it all into the trash receptacle at the bus stop before I enter the wilderness preserve.

A cicada-like clicking from the dry brush surprises me. I've heard it often before, but I haven't pinpointed which cricket or katydid makes that sound. I know how field crickets sound, and that isn't it. It could even be a snake's warning rattle. I turn off the audiobook I'm listening to and go on rattlesnake alert.

It's been years since I've seen a rattler, but California has six species. They can be distinguished from their nonpoisonous cousins by their very wide pyramid-shaped heads and tail rattles. I try to be careful where I step, and I stomp hard when approaching thick brush or shade to give them fair warning.
I brush sweat off my upper lip and reapply sunscreen with an SPF-50 sport stick. It's pretty quiet out here as I follow fresh shoeprints and mountain bike treads, just the soft scuffling of my athletic shoes on the dirt trail.

Hidden in shriveled vegetation is the large funnel web of a grass spider. I wonder what the miniature monster in the hole looks like. Getting a wee too close, I end up rolling sticky traces of telegraph line from my fingers.

A honey bee attracted by my exotic perfume of sweat and generic sport sunscreen buzzes around me. Its prolonged curiosity triggers unexpected shivers through me, more from the weird sensation of being circled than fear.

Up ahead is a dried-up and cracked pond bed. Lifeless plant stalks are scattered about. Just over a small ridge it's surprising to see a natural dam shoved into place by a once-upon-a-time stream. I browse my way up the dry channel to a semitrailer-sized pond where flame skimmers hover and chase each other. Toads hop away like skipped stones into the pool mirroring a cloudless blue sky and a sheltering hill of green and brown scrub.
sign
2010.6.19
sign
2010.6.19
Back on the main trail, I watch a mountain biker slowly pedal his way upslope. Should I turn back toward the cool comforts of home or pursue the biker up the hill? I take off my left shoe to look for an elusive spur. Now I'm picking bits of twigs and grass from both socks and shoes.

Water. People die without water. I have several mouthfuls left in my bottle. At the top of the hill, on the other side of the barbwire fence, there is an affluent community. I'm on the wrong side of the border. There is no water on this side. But on that side, there are swimming pools and garden hoses and a water reservoir.
The wind is a noisy spirit as it sweeps through the dry brush and grasses. My heightened senses jump at the wind's whim. The wind is in front, now it's behind, then it's running beside me.

In the air are turkey vultures. I count three. Their thunderbird shadows move swiftly and smoothly across the backs of the brown hills. Then a ground squirrel pops across the path, making my heart almost stop.

"The heat makes me sloppy," I scribble in similarly deteriorating handwriting. Not a good sign. Gotta stop for a water break in the shade, but not without first checking for poison oak and rattlers. I rinse, spit, and bless the thirsty ground with my first sip, then greedily swallow the last of some very warm water in my bottle. My body reluctantly moves out of the shade.
I almost stumble as the path turns downhill. My ear passages are dry and feel plugged up, because I have been mouthbreathing since huffing and puffing my way up the first steep hill. I renew my footsteps toward ice, and ice water, and a cold shower, and more ice at home.

As I exit the preserve, I meet another hiker coming in. She has a map in her hands. It's her first time here, so we discuss the trails and their relative safety. "I hope you have a lot of water. It's hot out there," I say and wish her a good hike.

Photos copyright © 2010-2013 Kat Avila
Cameras: Canon SD780 IS, Canon SX210 IS (2013)
airplane
2012.1.24
Notes:
1. "Chaparral" comes from the Spanish word chaparro for small shrub-like oaks.
2. During the summer, it gets hot very fast. Don't go out onto the trail without a hat, lots of water, and sunscreen.
3. There was a brush fire in this area about ten years ago, which is why you occasionally see signs of it in blackened stumps.

4. LANDSCAPE: This wilderness contains chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities that have adapted to cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The lifeless dry plants produced by the summers provides fuel for brush fires, which can be ignited by lightning or human carelessness or intervention. These fires are then sometimes fanned by the strong Santa Ana winds that are common in the fall and blow in from the desert. Certain plants have developed fire-responsive seeds to take advantage of post-fire conditions as fires return nutrients to the soil. But even with evolved adaptations against both fire and drought, indigenous plants are losing ground to nonnative plants brought in by humans.

Residential and commercial developments have seriously impacted the number of distinct lifeforms that can be sustained by the chaparral. The chaparral pictured here exists within a narrow strip between developments, and the trails are littered with horse dung. A nearby water drain is covered with spraypainted graffiti, and ignorant people have carved their names in the cacti. But even as there are people who disrespect the natural environment, there are many others who care for it by helping out with trail maintenance, controlling invasive plants, and picking up trash.
Panoramic Trail View: I took the first two rows of shots from one of the hills where the Tijeras Creek trail meets the Chiquita Ridge trail. I kept snapping as I made a full circle around.
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
erosion
water erosion
(It rains sometimes.)
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
The dirt trails are
vulnerable to erosion as
the orange cones indicate.
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
landscape
2010.6.19
sign
2010.6.19
New Year's Day sunrise
New Year's Day sunrise
2013.1.1
landscape
2012.1.25
landscape
The wilderness lies to the
right of Antonio Parkway.
2012.1.25
landscape
2012.1.28
landscape
2012.1.28
landscape
a fleeing bird
2012.1.28
landscape
2012.1.31
landscape
2012.1.31
landscape
2012.1.31
landscape
2012.1.31
landscape
2012.1.31
landscape
2012.1.31
landscape
2012.1.31
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
looking over the city
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
moon over the hills
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.5
landscape
2012.2.12
landscape
2012.2.12
landscape
2012.2.17
landscape
2012.2.17
landscape
2012.2.17
landscape
2012.2.17
landscape
2012.2.17
landscape
a dry channel
2012.2.18
landscape
2012.2.18
landscape
2012.2.18
landscape
2012.2.18
landscape
2012.2.18
sunset
early evening
2012.2.18
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
dirt path
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
uphill slope
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
2012.5.20
landscape
different shades of
vegetation
2013.5.26
landscape
2013.6.22
landscape
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
uphill slope
"Ugh! An uphill slope!"
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
landscape
From afar, it looked like
a golden waterfall.
2012.6.23
landscape
The swath was made up
of dry everlasting flowers.
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
dirt trail
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.7.21
evening
landscape
2012.7.21
evening
landscape
2012.7.21
evening
landscape
2012.7.21
evening
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.9.3
landscape
2012.9.3
landscape
2012.9.3
bubbling brook
bubbling brook
2012.9.3
landscape
2012.9.3
landscape
2012.9.3
landscape
2012.9.3
landscape
2012.9.29
small waterfall
2013.7.6
dirt trail
2013.7.6
Cactus Wren Patch: It's where I spotted a couple of cactus wrens for a Great Backyard Count one time.
landscape
2012.2.18
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.2.20
landscape
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
landscape
2012.6.23
Panoramic Detour
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
Pond
pond
2013.5.26
dead fish
pretty big (dead) fish
for a small pond
2013.6.16
pond
2013.6.22
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
They're too small to see,
but there are some ducks
and a great egret in the back.
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
landscape
2012.8.25
Winter: Rainfall in the winter is due to the land being located next to a large body of water, in this case the Pacific Ocean.
landscape
a rainy day
2012.1.21
landscape
2012.1.21
landscape
Burned bushes that have
been slow to recover.
2012.1.21
landscape
2012.1.21
landscape
2012.1.21
landscape
2012.1.21
landscape
2012.1.21
landscape
2012.1.21
landscape
2012.1.24
landscape
2012.1.24
Solar Eclipse (May 20, 2012): There was a perceptible drop in temperature, but otherwise it seemed like a regular sunset. The photos are darkened to bring out the eclipse more. (NOTE: It is not advisable to point your camera at the sun as it can damage the image sensor.)
solar eclipse
2012.5.20
6:15 p.m.
solar eclipse
2012.5.20
6:20 p.m.
solar eclipse
2012.5.20
7:02 p.m.
solar eclipse
2012.5.20
7:26 p.m.
solar eclipse
2012.5.20
7:27 p.m.