Seasonal Trails

In four successive issues of Woodnotes, Donna Claire Gallagher published a quartet of haibun, “Autumn Trail,” “Winter Trail,” “Spring Trail,” and “Summer Trail,” which together made a unique sequence. This was another example of innovation that appeared in Woodnotes. Here are all the haibun together, from issues #26, #27, #28, and #29 respectively, starting in the autumn of 1995, ending in the summer of 1996. Claire led several haiku walks for the Haiku Poets of Northern California in the 1990s, all of which helped to strengthen the community. One of her walks inspired my “Thornewood Poems,” and I can still hear her voice as she pointed out miner’s lettuce and sticky-monkey flowers.

by Donna Claire Gallagher

Autumn Trail

On my hike up the narrow but gentle climb, I round a switchback and nearly bump into an elderly man. He has paused in the shade under a bough of ripe toyon berries. His slightly stooped back is toward me. At my “Hello,” he turns slightly. The myriad bright metals emblazoning his hiking staff draw my attention. When I ask about them, he tells me that the crests are emblems from the various mountains he has climbed in Switzerland. He says that he has three similar sticks from his many climbs in other parts of Europe. Then he smiles and urges me to walk on ahead of him. As I edge past, he cautiously shifts his feet and the magnificent staff.

He stops for breath—

the emblazoned hiking stick

now a cane

Winter Trail

The Christmas sun shines brightly as I climb a south-facing section of a narrow woodland trail. I pause to admire the gray branches of a California buckeye tree. A shaft of sunlight seems to transform it into a silver sculpture. A few empty husks still cling to the bare limbs. Moving closer to it, I step off the path onto dozens of chestnuts gleaming among the brittle leaves under the tree.

A moment later deep breathing and a rustling startle me. Near deer tracks in the soft earth, I pause, motionless. Then, around the bend speeds a shirtless runner wearing red nylon shorts. “Thank you” he rasps while I remain off-trail.

In the Christmas sun

buckeye limbs, almost silver—

the jogger’s red shorts

Spring Trail

Taking advantage of lingering afternoon sunlight, we two begin the gentle climb up the south slope of the canyon toward Inspiration Point. The narrow trail clings to the oak woodland hillside. Spring runoff crosses the trail on its way to the creek below; in the patch of boot-sucking mud, our prints become part of the path’s texture. Uncurling ferns, thick moss, new buckeye leaves, and succulent miner’s lettuce catch my eye in the profusion of vibrant green around us. But I see a few lengths of green plastic grass dangling from the leaves of a maroon trillium!

Each bend of this well-worn path brings us closer to the vista. The closer we get, the more plastic grass and foil wrappers—remains from yesterday’s Easter celebration—intermingle with the fallen madrone flowers and oak catkins on the ground.

Drizzle wets our faces as we crest the summit; we zip our jackets against the strengthening breeze. In companionable silence we listen to the gentle rain on the leaves. The clouds move briskly across the canyon, swallowing the grazing cattle and bright grass on the opposite rim. A shredded cloud allows the sun to illumine slanting rain at the west end of the canyon.

This rainbow

the fifth one today—

our spring picnic

Summer Trail

Leaving the dusty parking lot, we ease one by one through the trail-head stile. The descending trill of wrentits accompanies the eight of us through the still-hot chaparral. Western fence lizards zip out of sight as we pass; only rustling underbrush and the small avalanches of grit betray their escape to hikers behind the leader. An occasional California fuchsia grows out of dry hard soil between gray-green foliage. The scent of sage makes me anticipate the dinner we will eat on the west-facing ridge.

A giant coast live oak stands at the edge of the woods; its leaves grow larger on the shady side of the crown. We enter the welcome coolness. Flickering shadows, bird calls, and the scent of bay trees evoke an appreciative contemplativeness in several of us. For others the oasis ambiance stimulates chatter. We approach the ridge.

A steep climb—

the hiking group

quiet at last

Nearing our destination, I am enjoying the walk along the rim of the creek valley and step off-trail to let the socializers pass. There is more than an hour before sunset. I sit a few moments against an enormous bay tree and breathe with the woods. I feel mosses, lay my palm on cool madrone bark, smell a sprig of wild mint, dip my fingers in a seep, and observe acorn woodpeckers before emerging from the woods at the ridgetop.

Walking into sunset . . .

only this ground

beneath my feet