Walk About Martinez -- Autumn Walk

An autumn walk on an old railway right of way and a poem for the season, this week in Walk About Martinez.


It’s wet outside and the trails are muddy, but if you don your rain coat or bring an umbrella, you can still get a good walk on paved trails and old roadways all over Central Contra Costa County.  Nearby we have the Canal and Iron Horse Trails which are many miles long, but there are others not far from town.  Recently, several friends and I walked a stretch that was new to me.  It turned out to be level and absolutely beautiful, the East Bay Regional Park District’s, Lafayette/Moraga Trail. 

It begins at the parking lot at the corner of Olympic Blvd. and Reliez Station Road in Lafayette.  This is near the intersection of Pleasant Hill Road and Olympic, and is easy to find.  From there the trail winds along an old railroad right of way, along creeks, through abandoned orchards and past some very interesting homes, skirts St. Mary’s College to finally end in Moraga, 7.7 miles down the line.

We were out for a Sunday stroll and did a few miles from the starting point and returned for a total of five miles.  The autumn leaves were at their peak, and the trail was much more beautiful than I had expected.  Children were playing in the rocky creek which borders an old walnut orchard near the trailhead.  

We walked up the path, homes on both sides, with small frontage roads separating them from the old rail line.  The yards of several of the homes were obviously designed to delight the constant stream of walkers on the trail.  Several trees were adorned with bird houses, some stately and proper, as for an English garden, and others, crazy and creative.  Not far from this, chicken coups had been built right into the  backyard wire fence, as if to provide us with a reason to stop and peer in.  Dwynne found a “wishing tree” all set up with a small stump to sit on, to give yourself a moment to find what it is you really want on this quiet stretch of a country lane. 

It is a well used trail and we were passed by cyclists and joggers, fast walkers and serious runners, all much more ambitious than any of us, that lovely autumn afternoon.  There were plenty of others, however, just out for a bit of fresh air and a constitutional, so we were right at home.

The trees are thick and tall on both sides and it seemed we were much further into the country.  Summer foliage clung to them, now red and yellow and gold or still green, waiting for a frost to herald a true start for winter.  It is a peaceful place, the shoulders of the paved path, deep in fallen leaves, their hues fading into the duller tones of winter.  The sky was intensely blue, almost turquoise behind the brilliant colors of fall.  

Autumn, and the fallen leaves on a path remind me of my own seasons.  Lines come to mind from Gerard Manley Hopkins' great poem to autumn and our own human seasons, Spring and Fall: to a Young Child


Margaret, are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leaves, like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! as the heart grows older

it will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sorrow’s springs are the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.


He’s the father of modern alliterative poetry, and pegs the melancholy beauty of a fall, forest, littered in the leavings of summer and our own lives.

As we walked back, we found notes, hidden clues for a children’s birthday treasure hunt going on that day.  Trees had been adorned in ornaments made of names, presumably of the party goers.  Others were decorated with delicate paper butterflies, wired on, waiting for a child’s eager hand to choose it and run off in search of the next bit of not so buried treasure.  It brought back memories of laying out our own treasure hunts when our kids were young.

We had a great time sharing stories about them, now all in college, and made a decision to try and get in a walk together every Sunday afternoon.  Two hours and we had worked up a great appetite for Sunday dinner.  We had found a bit of treasure ourselves, an old railway, paved and just overgrown enough to give the impression of being in the country, even though we had never left the town of Lafayette.  

When it’s wet outside, this is just one of many miles of East Bay Regional Park, paved trails, where you can take a Sunday stroll and not pick up mud in the process.

The East Bay Regional Park District maintains over a hundred and fifty miles of paved trails through cities and towns linking the larger parks and preserves.  You can find a map for the Lafayette/Moraga trail here and other East Bay Regional Trails here.  

Hiking - “I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.”  John Muir

Kristin Henderson November 27, 2011 at 08:47 AM
http://sharkpackpoetry.com/2011/10/07/poem-richard-wilburs-the-beautiful-changes/ THE BEAUTIFUL CHANGES One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies On water; it glides So from the walker, it turns Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes. The beautiful changes as a forest is changed By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it; As a mantis, arranged On a green leaf, grows Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows. Your hands hold roses always in a way that says They are not only yours; the beautiful changes In such kind ways, Wishing ever to sunder Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose For a moment all that it touches back to wonder. —Richard Wilbur
Katie November 27, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Absolutely gorgeous. He was US Poet Laureate for good reason.
Kristin Henderson November 27, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Twice. Thanks to Scott William for inspiring me to look for this poem. I had vaguely been doing that for years but I was inspired by this article. Jim, could we get a poetry blog or section?
Scott Williams November 28, 2011 at 04:59 AM
Thank you. I'd never read this poem, and it is a real find. Beautiful. Immediacy of William Carlos Williams with a bit of Beat edge. You can attach such beauty to my column any time.


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