CHASING DOWN THE MUSE
I dream of open spaces. Large tracts of land unencumbered by
roads, housing, skyscrapers or the pollution of industry. I dream of
rivers that run freely without the stricture of dams. I dream of palm
covered islands fragrant with frangipani and plumerias. I dream of
desert dunes resplendent in wind-swept formations. I dream of the
earth in harmony and balance with its wild creatures: the fox, the
lion, the deer, the mouse, the gnatcatcher and others.
I dream these things because they feed my soul. Mine and the soul
of mankind. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In Wildness Is the
Preservation of the World,” and his words speak to us all.
What wonder. A walk in the woods. To clear the mind of worry and
strain. To stretch the legs and limbs and bring fresh oxygen deep
into the lungs. To listen to the soft calling of the canyon wren or
the overhead cry of a red-tail hawk. This possibility, this satisfied
yearning, found here, in our own backyard. For we Lagunans have a
rich luxury, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, in our midst. We have
trails to hike or bike or ride, wildlife to observe and coastal fauna
Dedicated in April 1993, the 6,600 acre Laguna Wilderness Park
lies at the heart of the 19,000-acre South Coast Wilderness system of
parks, preserves and marine sanctuaries. The first lands were
purchased with funds the Laguna voters committed through the passage
of a $20 million tax bond in 1990. Other lands have been transferred
to the system through development agreements.
The park is managed by the County of Orange, Harbors, Beaches and
Parks, and supported by three nonprofit organizations, Laguna
Greenbelt Inc., The Nature Conservancy and Laguna Canyon Foundation.
The park shares borders with Crystal Cove State Park (managed by the
state of California) a spot of Laguna Open Space and the Irvine
Company Open Space Reserve (managed by the Nature Conservancy of the
As the first in a flurry of winter storms edged in on Saturday
afternoon, Steve and I enjoyed the company of Park Ranger Barbara
Norton on a brief tour of the park.
Barbara, a local resident, has what she describes as a “dream
job.” A former PTA mom with the Laguna school system, she turned her
love of the outdoors into a successful ranger application. She got
her current assignment after earning her stripes in the Huntington
Beach system. Barbara has cropped sandy hair, a wide, inviting smile
and an infectious love of “her” park.
Barbara works with Senior Park Ranger Larry Sweet and grounds
keeper Ray Davis. Their job is multifaceted and all encompassing.
Besides manning the visitor’s center at the Park Office, they oversee
trail maintenance and rehabilitation, signage and directional issues,
first aid concerns, enforcement of regulations and stewarding of
wildlife and the coastal plant community.
Wildlife corridors -- underpasses beneath the hulking concrete
frame of the 73 Toll Road -- are some of the areas of their concern.
These corridors are basically designed to prevent road kill. Walking
an area known as the El Morro sliver with Barbara, we were stunned to
see that residential development combined with Caltrans fencing has
narrowed the corridor to less than 10 feet. Terrified deer have been
seen bashing themselves against the fence with little to no room for
escape. It is hoped that an agreement between the transportation
agencies to move the fence and allow a wider berth can be completed
Barbara dropped us on the ridge and we headed down Emerald Canyon
to a misty vista of the Pacific. Screeching blue scrub jays danced
between the canyon trees. Stately sycamores, some more than 125 years
old, dropped their golden leaves onto our path. An acorn woodpecker,
his brilliant red head stark against the deep green of the wild oak,
hammered against its woody trunk. Crossing Old Emerald to Bommer
Ridge, tracks of deer, coyote and rabbit mingled with hiking boot
prints and bike tires, proof of the nature of the shared space.
Heavy clouds darkened the horizon as we edged ourselves back to
the park headquarters. A flutter of wrentits chased tiny insects on
tree branches and an Anna’s hummingbird swooped down to eye level.
Magic so close to home.
May your holidays be filled with the love of family and friends,
and perchance, the wondrous gift of a walk on the wild side.
* CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer
who thrives off beaten trails. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (949) 497-5081.