Nature Loafing

“Adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

With the rest of the school year relegated to distant learning, I decided to spend the remainder of the last trimester at my cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

This was an easy decision because I could be in a place that I love and also have access to everything I needed in my digital classroom to stay connected with my students, parents, and coworkers. In the wooded hills I could really stretch out and breath fresh air while experiencing the world coming alive as Spring was upon us in the San Lorenzo River Watershed.

The calls of Wilson’s warbler, California towhee, and song sparrow was the soundtrack to my mornings and the hoot of the great horned owl dueting across the valley was my evensong.

There is also much more elbow room in Santa Cruz County. A comparison of the population and area of Santa Cruz and San Francisco Counties is telling. The 2019 population of Santa Cruz County is 273,213 compared to 881,549 in San Francisco. The City and County of San Francisco is much smaller, it being hemmed in on three sides by water. The City is 231 square miles compared to the expansive 607 square miles of Santa Cruz County.

It also gave me a opportunity to do one of my favorite activities: nature-loafing. I define nature-loafing as being in nature and actively doing nothing. This definition really captures the oxymoronic nature of this non-pursuit. No agenda, no plan, just being there and being in the moment. All the stress and strain of sheltering in place and distant learning just drains out of me and flows downstream to the Pacific.

Of course I never just nature-loaf because I am also nature sketching at the same time. Like the feature sketch for this post of my hammock-view with my feet pointed upstream and my head downstream.

One of my favorite places to nature-loaf is on the banks of the San Lorenzo and one of my favorite actives is Power Hammocking.

Near Rocky Beach are two alders that are lined up parallel to the course of the river. They are about 15 feet apart and demand that a hammock be strung between; a perfect nature-loafing platform!

My nature loafing stage with the San Lorenzo River on the right.

Extreme Hammocking

Now that I had successfully hammocked over a ragging Gold Country creek I thought it was time to raise the stakes.

From my cabin base camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I headed upstream with my hammock, a book (Birds of Tropical America), and an adult beverage. It was time for some serious hammocking and I was planning to hammock over the mighty San Lorenzo River, Santa Cruz County’s largest river!

At just under 30 miles, the San Lorenzo River does not make the top 10 of the longest rivers in California (or the top 25 for that matter), but in December 1955, this river was a force to be reckoned with and with massive rainfall she jumped her banks and flooded downtown Santa Cruz. Now earthen dykes have been built up in order to tame her wintery wanderings.

The winter of 2016-17 have seen record rains and the river has stayed within her water course. But as I hiked upstream I noticed the toll that the high water level had metered out to the trees in the riparian flood zone. So many of the trees were now leaning downstream, almost at a vertical angle and some trees had been completely uprooted. Now this was going to be a challenge because I needed two vertical trees close enough together to pitch my hammock and I wasn’t seeing many.

Once I entered Henry Cowell State Park, I spotted a large, fallen redwood. This looked promising, now all I needed was a parallel fallen tree to attach the other end of the hammock. About 12 feet away was a smaller bay laurel that would do the job. And within 5 minutes, I was hammocking!

The Doublenest pitched between two vertical trees, with the mighty San Lorenzo River flowing below. The smaller bay laurel provided some bounce.

A sketcher in repose, Henry Cowell State Park.



Summertime and the Living is Easy

For a teacher, the summer is a time to find the angle of repose. To lay back, gaze at the summer blue and perhaps reflect on the past school year, or not. To travel, or not. But to recharge our batteries and be refreshed for the new year when 29 new faces that will be looking my way in August.

But right now I am content to lay back, the creek flowing underneath, and try to find coolness in the 103 degree afternoons of the foothills. I open my sketchbook and start sketching my feet, the two twin foundations that keeps me upright, even when I’m downright.

This creek runs parallel to my mother’s house in California’s Gold Country, along side the stone wall that was built by Chinese immigrants in the 1850s. And there is no better way to find the angle of repose than some extreme hammocking.

Hammocking, now who knew that laying down on a piece of stretched fabric was now a verb? When I bought my ENO Doublenest Hammock at REI the cashier asked, “Hammocking huh?” Now was this a trick question ? In the age of youtube stars and fail videos, almost anything can become an extreme sport, even the relaxing and passive inaction of resting in a hammock.

A wild turkey contemplating the pros and cons of extreme hammocking.

I suppose I could hang my hammock twenty feet up. But I wanted to keep out of the running for the Darwin Awards (think natural selection) and use it for its less extreme advantages: relaxing.

Finding repose on a beach on the Middle Fork of the American River near French Meadows Reservoir.