Down the stairs of my condominium and across Campus Drive to Leona Canyon Open Space Preserve. In April and May, I canter past an expanse of wild radish and California golden poppies, and beyond a pond that is lined in cattails and home to a changing family of mallards whose ducklings hide behind the rushes. Then I continue down a gentle slope where I hear the stream that flows out toward Mills College and eventually to the bay.
I walk three-miles, first an easy flat jog, then up a hill that ends at Merritt College. Along a stretch of California buckeye trees that erupt during the spring months into white candelabra, bay oak and laurel trees cascade along the hillside, trunks undulating like dancers who reach out to partners as robins and song sparrows flit from branch to branch, sunlight filtering above us in a soft shimmer.
I mark my journey up the length of the canyon by three benches. The first overlooks a growth of purple periwinkles that weave themselves into the groundcover. A large oak grows on the other side of the bank and spans the creek and provides a constant expanse of shade. I have had long talks with this oak, particularly after my husband died. I had many things to say. The tree listened and let me know when it was time to move ahead with my life, when it was time to go further up the canyon.
I arrive at a second bench. To get there I navigated past brambles of California blackberry whose white flowers in the early summer turn into ripening fruit, stands of white poison hemlock marked by dots along their stem to distinguish them from similar white umbrella flowers of cow parsnip. This part of the canyon is shaded by bay laurel and harbors large colonies of sword ferns and stinging nettles that remind me of The Wild Swans, a tale by Hans Christian Anderson about a young girl who gathered nettles from graveyards to help her brothers regain their human form. For a time I sat at the second bench with a new lover, until another place with different trees called him away.
Now I rest at the third bench almost to the top of the hill. The bench is memorialized to the Jalquin people, one of the Ohlone tribes that used to call this area home. I am surrounded by yellow monkeyflowers and purple thistle.