The Old Ways

“No hay camino, se hace camino al andar” -“there is no road, the road is made by walking”. ~ Antonio Machado

As an omage to Robert McFarlane’s incredible book, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, I decided to revisit some of the old pathways traveled both by my father and my younger self.

To connect, once again, with the journeys on foot, made me feel a part of the landscape as well all who had also travelled this way, the people and the deer and mountain lion. These were the tracks that marked the land like the slime trail of the banana slug, weaving it’s way, often finding the path of least resistance.

The previous Friday I headed out of Paradise Park along the fire road to the railroad grade. This was a route taken by my father and his friends when he was a teenager. He would frequently hike up to the old rock quarry, which is now part the campus on UC Santa Cruz. (It is the quarry where my graduation ceremony was held). I’m sure he also hiked upstream, as I did, toward Henry Cowell State Park and the osprey’s nest.

Today afterwork, I wanted to hike up a water way to a waterfall. I had hiked up here, from my cabin, many times. Although it has been a while since I have hiked up Powder Mill Creek. My destination was Powder Mill Creek Falls, which was a short ramble up the creek.

From the very start of the hike, there is a clearly defined trail, but once you cross the creek it seems to be a “Choose-Your-Own Adventure” type of hike . There are no correct paths, it just depends on how wet you want to get.

I paused along the way to look at my favorite fern, the five-fingered or western maidenhead fern, (Adiantum aleuticum). This fern favors damp habitats usually near small turbulent streams. Native Californians use it’s dark veins to weave baskets.

The hike is maybe a quarter of a mile but it can be a tough scramble and progress is slow as I favored a methodical approach rather than a reckless bush-whack! (the path of youth). The way has been constantly reformed by the waterway and the trees that have fallen into the watershed, making the pathway ever changing and ever challenging. I was not traversing this old way in my youthful self but as a middle aged shelter-in-placer. This was the first time I had used trekking poles on this hike. I need all the points of contact I can get!

I made it to the falls and I love the feeling of arrival, like coming into camp after a long trudge with a 40 pound pack. I was here and I found a good vantage point and I do what all sketchers would do in my situation, I started sketching. I settled on using my sepia brush pen to keep things loose and bold. There was a lot to take in and I simplified the scene with ink strokes.

Try to keep it simple stupid. I succeed and fail in equal measures.

There is a price to pay with a bush-whack in the San Lorenzo Watershed on deer trails, and that was an unwelcome traveller, a deer tick, firmly attached to my left side. This was the first tick in almost 50 years to have found purchase on my flesh. A fair price to pay for a sketch I think.


Lifer #504

The Blackburnian warbler had been seen on October 11th in Ft. Mason just before the rainy weekend and I didn’t get a chance to add it to my North American list. I assumed the storm would have washed the bird out of the city and I didn’t see any postings of a continuing Blackburnian so I didn’t venture out during one of the rain windows.

It appears that the storm didn’t wash the warbler out of the city limits completely. A Blackburnian, very similar in appearance to the Ft. Mason young male, was found at 11:45, Monday morning at South Lake Merced, within a few wing beats of the San Francisco/ Daly City border. And just south of the Bufano penguin sculpture, very near where I had a black and white warbler in October of 2012.  Now if the warbler could satisfy itself in the trees of South Lake Merced and stay around for another few hours, I might have an after work lifer.

And so it was that I found myself, a little bit before 4 o’clock, in front of some myoporum trees full of  yellow rumped warblers and cedar waxwings, scanning the green for a flashing flame. A local birder had just seen the bird and now it was just about patience. The patience paid off as the Blackburnian appeared at eye-level, right in front of me at 3:57!

The Sketch

I started this spread with the lettering: Blackburnian LB# 504. To create the lettering I used a Parchment 1” plastic stencil and a black Faber-Castell PITT big brush pen. The anchor for the spread is the adult male warbler in the lower left. This sketch was started with pencil and then layered in watercolor. I intentionally avoided using pen, instead attempting to define and contain shapes with brush work with a Winsor & Newton Series 7  number 3 brush. This is not the warbler that I saw but I think sketching a bird at it’s absolute apex (male breeding plumage), I am able to understand and internalize the bird’s appearance. The breeding male’s foil is a loose, Chinese brush style, fall male, based on a photograph of the bird that first seen on October 11 at Ft. Mason. The overall color scheme of the sketch of black, white, and yellow-orange is dictated by the breeding male’s plumage.


I saw this life bird on October 17, the  27th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake that rocked the Bay Area, which I experienced when I was a senior in high school. To crown this sketch I included a quote by John Muir that I re-read in the book I am currently reading, Landmarks by Robert Mac Farlane. Muir wrote:

The strange, wild thrilling motion and rumbling could not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, near Sentinel Rock, both glad and frightened, shouting, ‘A noble earthquake!’ feeling sure I was going to learn something.