May 11, 1996
“If a path that can be followed is not the true path, why do
Bears shit right on the trail?”
Standing on the stream-smooth rocks in the bed of
Redwood Creek, the water’s not that deep, and I begin to blow
the conch, then chant the “Heart of the Perfection of Great
Wisdom Sutra” in both Zen-Japanese and Americano, plus
some other old magic chants in no known language, while more
conch-blowers join in. Those who know the cantos start in
chanting. The group circles closer and the last shoes are tied and
water bottles packed. It’s mid-May, a great day for another walk
on Mt. Tamalpais. It must be about seven-thirty in the morning.
Carole and my stepdaughter Robin KJ had driven in to the
town of Davis the night before to join me. We ate dinner out and
put up in the Ecolodge Motel with a five a.m. wake-up.
Just light, we drove the 80 west to the 37, west to the 101
down to coast highway numero uno, going over and toward the
ocean past Green Gulch and back a bit up the valley to Redwood
Creek and the lower Muir Woods parking lot. Now we are at the
bottom of the water cycle almost at sea level in the endless play
of rock and rain.
Friends turn up in cars, and three whole classes of students
from UC Davis. Also there are a few faculty colleagues who are
not ashamed to be walkers.
We cross the creek on a rickety temporary bridge, duck through
some overgrowth, and head up the (famous) Dipsea trail—soon in
the open—stretch our legs out along the meadows and live oak
groves. It feels like I’ve been doing this for lifetimes now.
A stiff coast breeze is blowing. We’re on a part-trail, part-dirt
fire road, going through meadows. East into the canyon side, out
of the wind, it’s deep forest. California Native Plant Society volunteers are along the road wearing green Tamalpais Conservation
Club t-shirts, rooting out stems and roots. I ask them what, they
say “Thoroughwort, an invasive plant from Mexico.”
We cut through the woods. Around Pan Toll the state park
campground and ranger station is all paved. The Old Mine trail
goes on up toward Rock Springs, also partly paved. Great back
views from the grassy openings look out to the City and the Bay,
they always look so clean. Dip over and climb again to the flats
and old campsite called Rock Springs. There used to be a
cement tank here that you could dip your tin cup into for a
drink. Your horse could slurp. But now the Rock Springs spring
has been piped down to a storage tank and is all paved over, so
we walk a short ways to a four-hundred-foot-long barren streak
of serpentine outcropping with a series of greenish four- to six-foot rocks protruding in a row from the ground, like teeth.
Serpentine, from deep under the sea. Banged up against the
plate and pushed up here (see John McPhee). Serpentine, the
state mineral of California—blue-green, half sterile, shapely.
That’s the San Andreas Fault valley down there west of the ridge.
It was once deeply forested.
Go back to the Rock Springs meadow and follow a course
that can be described as a short distance on the Simmons trail
and then a right on the Benstein trail, which takes you to the
Potrero Meadows fire road, and then along the upper edge of
Potrero Meadows (famous once for socialists) and around to
Rifle Camp. We stop for lunch—very low water in the creek.
We’re leaving the redwood and Douglas fir slopes zone, with its
From here the Northside trail climbs right out of the creek
bed and goes into the realm of canyon live oak, madrone, the flat