I hear the horses’ heavy breathing and feel the powerful thrust of Shambhala’s strong hindquarters beneath me moving us upward along the narrow rarely used trail. We are climbing a switchback through the redwoods up the spine of a steep mountain in Big Basin in the Santa Cruz Mountains north of Ano Nuevo State Park. Every so often, we have to slide off our horses onto the ledge to navigate our way on foot under or around a fallen tree or limb. I doubt that Jim, who was thrilled to find this trail on a hike last week, really realized how challenging it would be to do on horseback, primarily because it is so narrow and the drop off so sheer. But it is Mother’s Day Weekend and as a gift he has agreed to show me the way to Chalk Mountain and the extraordinary overlook it provides of the entire sweep of the Monterey Bay.
I am thrilled with this gift as it really comes from the heart. Jim does not share my passion for horses, but with this gift of a nearly unknown trail he is honoring me and my two beautiful mares, Cheyenne and Shambhala, It is a crystal clear spring morning. We have packed a picnic lunch and fortified the horses’ hooves with Renegade boots against the promise of rugged terrain. Tashi Delek, my “giggle therapist” poodle pup from my successful battle with breast cancer five years ago, bounds exuberantly and carelessly back and forth up the zig zag trail, threading between the horses and their hooves as if no harm could come to him.Â He believes the world is his oyster. Miraculously, thus far, no harm ever has.
As we climb above the valley floor and the small creek below, the primeval darkness of the great redwood sorrel carpeted forest begins to lighten. Through the treetops, as we gain ground on the switchbacks, we begin to see blue sky. Soon, we reach the ridgeline and the flora changes dramatically. Instead of lush sorrel and redwoods, we are in a scrub plane of manzanita, deer brush, Indian paintbrush, lupine, sticky monkey flowers, California sunflowers, popcorn flowers and pearly everlasting. The scent of the ocean greets us. The dark mulch gives way to lighter soil and finally the chalky shale that has given Chalk Mountain its name.
Following the ridgeline, Jim leads me to an outlook where we can see Chalk Mountain ahead. We continue climbing, giving the horses a breather from time to time while pausing to marvel at the beauty of this pristine place. Tashi yelps gleefully, bounding after a small marmot, but the local native aces him easily and slides tauntingly into its hole. Through the scrub we continue into full sun and a whipping coastal wind and finally arrive at the peak of the mountain. The vista is breathtaking. I gaze the horizon line with the eyes of a doe, quivering with the climb, nostrils quivering, ever alert for a lurking cougar and then with the wise eyes of an ancient Oholone woman, up here gathering berries, pausing to take in the huge expanse of bay that has sustained my peoples for millennia; then I survey the coastline with the eyes of my Scottish forbearers, sheep ranchers and lumbermen, settlers who came in the 1800s to settle their wives and children for summers in Santa Cruz on the Monterey Bay to escape the relentless summer heat of the San Joaquin Valley. I imagine that of late there haven’t been that many eyes in just this place taking in the sweep of the central coastline and across to the Monterey peninsula. It is one of those Technicolor days. The air is sweet with spring and my heart is nearly melting with love for my husband and these beautiful animals who have carried us here, and quietly, in gratitude and celebration on this day, for my children who have given me the precious gift of motherhood.