I’m a city kid, born and raised in San Francisco. I’m also a Druid, and while I love the urban forest, there are times when I just have to get off the pavement and into the woods! Here in the Bay Area we are blessed with wild places. It’s surprising just how many of them are accessible on public transit. Today I’m going to share one of my closest “nature fixes,” complete with directions, should you choose to see it for yourself.
Last weekend I found myself overcome with spring fever. I was close to a BART station, so I jumped on the Fremont train. Fruitvale Station is easy to get to for many of us, and blessed with many buses to the hills. If you feel like a cup of coffee or something more substantial beforehand, there are also lots of choices there, which makes it a great starting point. The 54 line to Merritt College begins its run there, and I was soon aboard on my way to paradise. The ride winds up 35th Avenue, through the Laurel District and up the hill past a variety of places of worship. Since my church is the forest, I felt right at home. I got off at Merritt College, the end of the line. From there I crossed the street, walked across the broad lawn and crossed the street again on the other side. This put me at the head of the York Trail.
Almost immediately I was in redwoods. The trail winds down, switching back and forth across the steep slope. I didn’t cut the switches—why miss a single minute of this? Water was running down the trail, the last rain was yesterday, after all. There were few flowers, but the green was everywhere. In a few weeks, this place will be a riot of color and I am already planning my next visit. I could hear the creek running long before I got to it. At the top of the trail it is confined in a concrete culvert, a reminder that this is still the heart of the city. I crossed the little bridge that met the trail and turned right, going downhill with the creek.
The only marker for the York Trail is a laurel tree next to a dip in the side of the main trail. The way is rougher and steeper than the main trail, but it is an invitation to inhabit your animal body. The hazels were just beginning to leaf out and the wet, wild smell of earth and new growth surrounded me.
Leona Heights was logged a century and more ago. The redwoods that grow in the canyon are all new growth, all but one. This was the adventure I chose this wet, spring day. Old Survivor grew in a hard place and was spared the axe. I found its crown, sticking high above the tops of the younger trees, but the drop from the trail above isn’t possible, or at least I don’t want to chance it. Today I worked my way down the trail till the forest called me, then struck out across the hillside. I followed the ways the deer took across the good green earth, through hazels and poison oak. I took my time, sang to Brighid as I stood next to a hazel with leaves and branches so small and fine they seemed to be floating in midair.
I could see the York trail below me and hear the song of water, so loud in this year of plentiful rain. I trusted my boots, jeans and thick canvas coat to protect me from the poison oak, like the hazel, just budding out, and to hide me from the spring breakers whose voices rang through the canyon. I was glad I’d heeded the call of the forest and that the wet undergrowth was quiet beneath my feet as I followed the deer paths from redwood to hazel to laurel. At every opening in the canopy I looked up, hoping to find the tree I was looking for, but the forest wasn’t going to give up its secrets today. The oldest tree in the forest would remain a quest for another time. When I ran out of deer paths I climbed back up to the trail I’d started from and looked once again for Old Survivor. The French broom was so thick from the rains that it was hard to find, but there it was, and the drop over the edge of the trail was just as bad as I remembered. I followed it to another side trail and back down to Mountain Road. A ten minute walk had me back on the Redwood Road, and at the 54 stop next to the Safeway. Home was only two buses away.
If you’d like to take this adventure yourself, here is a basic page on the area. If you find Old Survivor, let’s go hiking together!