I had an unexpected but welcome day off from substitute teaching today. After a too practical morning, I decided to hike in one of my favorite places: Oakland’s Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve. This little canyon is home to many plants that once thrived in the East Bay’s riparian areas. No other cars rested in the parking lot when I pulled in; the woods and I were alone.
We’ve had many windy days in northern California lately; strong winds can spread fires. Huckleberry was still and quiet today, a great Halloween mood. The stream at the canyon’s bottom was dry and silent, waiting for autumn’s rain. One little side stream flowed unexpectedly, making rocks softly chime. Cool shade covered the trail. Pacific madrones’ trunks gave the darkness an orange glow. The undersides of chinquapin leaves shone yellow, like spooky eyes. Bay laurels’ multiple trunks waited to dance for the moon; coast live oaks, twisted by their efforts to reach for sunlight stood powerfully, guarding the forest.
Something hidden shuffled through fallen leaves. I guessed it was a squirrel burying acorns, or a California towhee who scratched the soil to find juicy bugs. Crows cawed from somewhere in the shade. Their cousins, Stellar’s jays squawked and rattled like feathered skeletons.
My background is 1/4 Irish and 3/4 German. This holiday flows through my cells. Are there ghosts, faeries, and spirits hiding in the woods? The science teacher/skeptic in me thinks not. Still, an honest lover of science can revel in mystery – the poet/storyteller in me thrives on folklore. Elaine Pagels, Joseph Campbell, and other writers have claimed that mythology reflects more on our psyches than it tries to describe or explain the universe. This works for me, and lets me leap with the strange feelings the woods brings today.
The woods grows cool as I walk. Halloween is a shorter day than the last one. It hugs me with rushing night.