This afternoon I crossed the Hacienda Bridge over the Russian River for the first time (oddly, I’d kayaked under it months ago). We stopped to collect tea/coffee in the picturesque town of Guerneville and then went on to the Sonoma coast.
I’d driven up Route 1 from Thousand Oaks to San Francisco three years earlier and seen Big Sur. The Sonoma coast is on a par, and is much less developed because it’s that much harder to reach.
We stopped in Gerstle Cove, Salt Point State Park. There’s a peculiar local ordinance banning mushroom gathering on the seaward side of Route 1, so we stopped in the State Park on the landward side. Shannon went mushroom-hunting whilst I went for a run up to the Pygmy Forest. The Pygmy Forest sits on a beach from the Pleistocene era, which has been raised up by the violent faulting activity in Northern California. The growth of these ancient trees has been stunted by the poor, acidic soil.
As I ran back down the trail into the ‘normal’ forest I could hear pinecones and acorns falling. In American parks at this time of year it’s possible to be wonderfully alone with nature in a way that one can’t normally be in the UK. Off to the left I heard a rustling in the leaves but ran on. A huge buck deer trotted across the path in front me just thirty feet ahead and disappeared back into the forest. I stopped to look at it, and it turned to look at me, just thirty yards away. Then it turned to face me. I wasn’t sure whether it was going to charge me, because I noticed a smaller deer deeper into the forest. What was remarkable was that the simple act of turning to face me made the animal almost invisible against the trees. I stood still for four or five minutes, as did the deer: I was keen to see which of us would blink first.
After a minute or two of staring, my eyes began to see it as a kaleidoscope of green and brown just a few feet from my face. It was a remarkable effect, and if this was how the Native Americans viewed the spirit world in their trances.
The deer looked away first, then back at me. There was an element of trust, so I took the chance to take some photos. It moved into a shaft of light, and suddenly became visible. An acorn hit the ground to the left of me. It was time to run on.