Sageness in the Canyon Landscape of Prickles, Songbirds, and Sunlight


February 22, 2015

When I am in southern California I take a few hours and walk a canyon. On the backside of two weeks of traveling and meetings, I finally found myself walking a southern California canyon on a Saturday morning. Entering the north-south canyon before sunrise, I hoped to hear the canyon awaken as the sunlight made its way from ridgetop to canyon floor. Also, its being a southern California canyon just outside of Camarillo, I hoped to have it all to myself for a little of a while.

I hiked this same canyon in September. Showing the effects of the ongoing drought, the canyon was dry and brittle. Normally, hiking these canyons in the fall, there are the jewels of prickly pears hidden in the crevasses of northern exposures. Pears make hiking a wonderful taste. This particular canyon has an abundance, ripe for the picking. They also have an abundance of hairlike prickles called glochids, near impossible to see, covering them. Should you pick a pear, the prickles from the fruit detach and leave you with a handful of stickers. You can get around this by lighting a match and burning the prickles off. However, it being a brittle dry fall, it did not seem wise to start any fire, even if it was only a match, so I did without pears.


The pears are long gone now, but on the upside, there has been rain. While the landscape is still in a drought, the canyon plants have taken full advantage of what rain has come and are showing off. Flowers, from those no more than an eighth inch round lying flat to the ground to painting brush, they are at their seductive best. The cactus, though they may have lost their pears, their leaves are plump and full.

I couldn’t miss the sage as I first entered the canyon. Last September, shriveled and dry, it had sucked up into itself to save water. It was not much to look at. A little winter rain and the sage is whispering sweet nothings. Some plants welcoming your nose with two-inch leaves. White sage of California is unlike that back home in the Yakama valley and it was a joy to be with a plant laughing about its unique landscape.


As sunlight moved down the ridge and settled into the canyon, life awakened. Birds sang as hillsides warmed. A heron surprised me as it flew south. Two mallards rose out of the canyon bottom creek. Leaving the canyon bottom I moved up the canyons west ridge. Ridge side flowers opened and smile as sunlight nudged them, while those hidden in the shade kept to themselves.

Reached the ridgetop, I walked its spine. The ridge ended at a knob giving view to all directions. Tractors moved across farmland tucked in northern ridges. A southwest saddle gave way to Pacific water off Point Mugu. Through a northwest saddle traffic busied about on Highway 101. Pearless, I sat with an apple from my pack and watched the low lands come to life. Before long, a few mountain bikers entered the canyon below. Not long afterwards, folk were walking the lower trails.



Funny how sound travels and as the canyon woke up so did a din of sound. Leaving the knob, I headed down the ridge. Staying off old trails, I walked through grasses and sage until I reached beaten trails below. I’d been on the trail for a while when a mountain biker passed me heading back to the trailhead. A car had been at the trailhead when I arrived, I guessed it must have been his. One other who wanted the Saturday morning canyon to himself.

Reaching the canyon bottom two Spanish speaking gentlemen walked up the trail. Saying our hellos, we went on our way. Soon afterwards two young teenagers—I guessed family of the two men—looked at the ground as they walked by. Not more than a mile from the trailhead music came from down trail. Three mountain bikers rounded a bend, just ahead, with music glaring—while I have walked by many bikers with earphones, this intrusion upon the canyon was a new experience for me. As they peddled by without a nod, my mind went to a not so healthy place. Soon the music faded behind me and I pulled it together as bird song lifted from of the sage.


  1. Dave,

    I am bicycling through the high grasslands south of Tucson. I can see the cactus all around, but I am confined to the road with all of the distractions of traffic and with little time to experience the world as one does when walking early in the morning. I too am aware of how dry the world is. There has been virtually no evidence of the desert’s resurgence when rain comes and flowers spring to life. A solo ride I took several years ago across the Tohono O’odham reservation west of Tucson was at a time when the desert everywhere was alive with flowers. I appreciated your reflection. Where in Southern California are you?

    Keith Keith Watkins


    1. I am no longer in southern California, but was just south of the Venture area (though in downtown LA earlier in the week). I noticed in your writings you were biking in the southwest again and realize with your note here, I did not spend near enough time to have the “desert fix” I need each year.
      Be well on the roads and enjoy the wind! Dave


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