Our final camp of the summer was something different: the air was crisp at 6000 feet, and laced with the intoxicatingly sweet aroma of pine.
After two months of heat, cold, wind, flies, noisy neighbors, and homicidal tree branches, I was surprised to find tranquility in the quiet patch of shaded grass at our campsite. I may have grown up in San Diego, but I came into my own as an ornithologist while on the east coast. The plaintive “hey, sweetie” song of a chickadee drifting through the trees filled me with an inexplicable sense of contentment. It was a sweet and familiar sound, even if the Mountain Chickadees here weren’t quite the same as the eastern Black-caps I miss so much, and their song sounds odd when mixed with the wawks of Steller’s Jays and the classic chaparral melody of a distant Wrentit.
My final survey site was on the grounds of the Fort Tejon State Historic Park. The old fort buildings sit just within the hills that form the southern border of the Central Valley.
The hills here are still chaparral, bearing more resemblance to the valley than the dusty pine forests just a little higher in elevation. The lower slopes were orange with buckeye trees losing their leaves for the harsh California summer, just as eastern maples drop their foliage for the winter. But here the changing branches are still dotted with the bright white flowers of spring. It is an odd seasonal change.
Higher up the canyon, the slopes were blanketed in flowering yerba santa and buckwheat. I hardly saw another person. And, thankfully, I didn’t see any bears or mountain lions, either.
In the afternoons, Logic and I migrated back down into the valley for cell reception and the coveted electrical outlets of the closest Starbucks. Wheeler’s Ridge is the last stop on I-5 before the hot and unforgiving trek through the hills. It’s not a city, but rather a dense collection of amenities constantly bustling with travelers.
On our final night at camp, with data all entered and dinner consumed, Logic and I went on a short hike to the closest ridge. For all our travelling, it’s not been often we’ve taken the time to stop and appreciate the scenery.
It’s not been often we’ve had much scenery to appreciate.
But as I said at the beginning of this post, this place was different. Here we could stand in the sun atop our ridge, surrounded by pine and chaparral flowers. And in the end, despite the hardships, it felt like a summer well spent.
Two months and nearly 6000 miles later.