Falling in Love with California

In Life & Travel by Jackie Cruz

The earth has its music for those who will listen.George Santayana

Growing up in Belmont on the Peninsula in northern California, I had Waterdog Lake in my backyard. My friends were foxes, quails, rabbits, skunks, birds, deer, snakes, insects, vultures and the occasional bobcat or mountain lion. The backdrop was filled with flowers, rocks and beautiful trees with whom I always exchanged my ideas and thoughts. Even though I grew up surrounded by beautiful nature, I did not do too much exploring outdoors. I don’t remember camping in the hills or kayaking on the open water.

To make up for that, last week, my family and I traveled to Arnold in northern California near highways 99 and 4 to visit some dear friends.

The first stop was Calaveras Big Trees park with Sequoias, Pines and Redwoods up to heights of 325 feet. We started on the hiking loop with stories from the older, but gentle-hearted volunteer tour guide was heartbreaking. He explained that in 1852 Augustus T. Dowd was chasing a grizzly bear in the area and discovered what he thought to be the largest sequoia tree in the world at “over 25 feet (7.3 m) in diameter at the base, and 300 feet (91 m) tall.” Unfortunately, he thought he could make some money on this Discovery Tree, so he decided to cut pieces and bring them to a display in San Francisco to prove they had the largest tree in the world. Many spectators did not believe the story and the showcase flopped. After, it was shipped to other parts of the country. Later and awaiting shipment to Paris, a fire broke out and destroyed the exhibit. So much for a gold mine!

The tour guide also informed us of the softness of the Redwood versus the Sequoia bark that we would encounter on the hike. I put my hand on the spongy Redwood bark and felt the heartbeat of the tree. My whole life I walked passed these beautiful, massive creatures and never acknowledged them for the living things they are. After only a few moments in nature, I felt reconnected, like a character from the movie Avatar. I could never describe it growing up, but I always felt something special with the cobalt blue ocean, sacred living trees and life-giving golden orange sun.

If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.
Vincent Van Gogh

Fulfilling one of our bucket list items was next on the list. We walked across a 60-foot wooden plank bridge and jumped off a platform onto the quarter-mile long zip line. My heart has never pounded so hard in my life, but I got worked up all over nothing! It as an easy descent onto the 1500-foot long line to the bottom platform.

In the 109-degree dry mountain heat, we needed to cool off quickly. Our wonderful and loving hosts decided to stop at Natural Bridges Cave. It was a 1-mile hike down a rocky dirt path canopied by trees and open to the huge mountains. The cave with crystal clear water and limestone walls formed by the creek. Getting closer to the cave, I was getting nervous and knew I would have to face my fear of swimming in dark water without seeing what is underneath me. Creeping slowly into the icy water from the snow-capped mountains, my heart was beating faster than it was earlier that day on the zip line platform.

I was starting to panic as the water from the natural springs above the cave dripped in a waterfall through the cracks in the rocks onto my head. I swam further into the cave and noticed the water was getting darker. I stayed close to our friend, who we were staying with in Arnold, and I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel (literally). After 90 seconds of swimming, the boulders were getting bigger and I was able to stand up in the cave. We reached the other side and there were dogs playing in the natural springs and trees covering the river for natural shade for kids and families. We swam back to the other side and coming out of the water, I felt a sense of achievement. I conquered the cave and my fears.

The next day, we took the speedboat out on New Melones Lake. It was my fist time doing anything strapped into a life vest on an inflatable tube and tied to a boat, but every second was invigorating! With every wake made by the swerving boat, we catapulted a few feet in the air! At one point, we got so much height, I tried to hold myself down on the floaty and ended up farting so loud! My uncle and I started laughing so hysterically that my face cheeks were cramping.

Our next adventure took us to Utica Lake in Pinecrest. We drove up and over many mountain passes and finally arrived at the reservoir. We unloaded the kayaks onto the small loading dock, I plopped into the kayak and paddled away. The calm water was cool, but felt refreshing. The lake was not a typical circular lake, but rather winded around gargantuan boulders and trees taller than buildings. The sky was the most beautiful shade of baby blue without a cloud in sight.

We docked our kayaks and hiked up the natural rocky hill with trees and wild flowers growing in the cracks. We ate rotisserie chicken salad sandwiches and search for interesting pinecones and lizards. Taking a little dip in the water, I saw dense sea grass growing on the lake floor that almost ate my Rainbow sandals. Wading in the water up to my knees, 2 schools of fish scurried passed me and a 9-inch fish with long whiskers like a Japanese samurai searched for its next meal near water’s edge. Kayaking in this lake 6,600 feet above sea level with the most natural and picturesque backdrop gave me the privilege of having yet another connection with nature.

In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia. Charles A. Lindbergh

Although we roughed it out in the wilderness, gourmet dining from our beautiful hosts and guests awaited us at almost every meal time. From a charcuterie with exotic meats, cheeses and fruit pastes and rotisserie chicken lettuce wraps with spicy foreign sauces to a flavor-packed Shakshouka and mouthwatering homemade pasta sauce, we had it all!

I was raised Catholic and went to Notre Dame High School in Belmont – a suburb 30 minutes south of San Francisco. My grandparents were great and took me to St. Matthew’s Church every Sunday at 1030 (when I didn’t have soccer games) and bought me a chocolate donut at a local café afterward. Learning the creation story simultaneously with science, biology and evolution in school confused the heck out of me.

Spending years learning about Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Protestantism, Catholicism and Hinduism opened my eyes to the differences in each culture. It showed me how similar beliefs are. Even though I was at an all-girl Catholic school, I immediately felt more of a connection with the concepts of reincarnation, souls and energies, karma and the basic human values to live by. I developed my conscious, morals and spirit.

I can never learn as much as I did without the guidance of my grandparents, family and the lessons shown to me in high school. However, after many philosophical debates, deep thought and reflection, I believe in the miracles of nature that we see and don’t see every day, as well as the science of evolving species throughout millions of years.

Why am I babbling about this? I continue to see California’s breathtaking landscapes as evidence of nature’s evolution, formation and destruction. It is impossible in my mind that all of the beautiful gifts of nature were created in such a short span of time.

Why are homeowners forced to shell out thousands of dollars for tree removals on their property? The pines are being destroyed from the inside out from bark beetles (picture 5 above) penetrating the dry, brittle bark caused by the natural droughts and weather patterns. What about the natural formations of mountain ranges or destruction of landscapes from plates shifting and earthquakes? To me, everything makes more sense scientifically.

With 11 different geomorphic regions, including ranges, basins, canyons, coasts and valleys, how can you not be spoiled and fall in love with California’s landscapes? Coming back after living in Germany for 5 years, I cannot imagine my life without hearing the waves crashing on the coast, the birds chirping in the forests or the wind blowing through the palm trees. Discover your California like I have! Or, take it to another level and get your groove on with Miss California!

Nature is my medicine.Sara Moss-Wolfe