January 12, 2005
The ‘P’ Loop
Peering up at the towering eucalyptus trees through bleary eyes, I wondered to myself why God in all His infinite wisdom chose to create an hour such as seven o’clock in the morning. Living off campus and without a car, I made sure to allow myself more than enough time to get up to the meeting spot, and was thus the first one to arrive. I groaned inwardly as I looked over the map of the trail we were scheduled to take. Hiking has never been one of my favorite things to do, not to mention the fact that it was cold, I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and I had gotten at least four hours less sleep than I’m used to. The day did not look promising.
As Prof. Marx pointed out examples of poison oak and told how to avoid it, I found myself looking at the trees on either side of Brizziolari creek. Their gnarled, arthritic-looking branches reached out and seemed to plead for help. Prof. Marx had just finished telling us about how a couple of drunk drivers had crashed down the embankment into the creek, filling it with gasoline. Not only that, but the manure from the bull test continually drains into the creek and poisons the naturally pristine water. I felt pity for the trees, and helpless to save them. I barely had time to finish that thought, when Prof. Marx told the group about the plan to build even more student housing on the site where the bull test is now. In exchange, he told us, the administration was planning on restoring the area around the creek to its natural habitat. No more poisonous water. Just wait, I told the trees as we moved down the road. Help is on the way.
The torrential rain of the past few days had taken its toll on the landscape. Everywhere I looked, I could see the exposed roots of trees like cold and naked feet sticking out the ground. The creek on our left was swollen to overflowing its banks and we could see the damage that had been done to the road and the ground surrounding the area. Parts of the creek bank had fallen in making steep and harsh looking cliffs. The sycamore and willow trees, however, looked pleased as punch for all the excess moisture. These trees need to have “wet feet” so the side of a full and flowing creek is a perfect place for them.
Once we passed over the footbridge on Brizziolari creek, the going became tougher. The trail going up the mountain had rivulets of water cascading down the stones and stairs built in to the ground. Prof. Marx set an easy pace however, and I felt confident that I could keep up. When we stopped to rest, I sat on a dry rock and looked back over the hills. I saw a few odd-looking little structures on the grassy hill, and I asked what they were. “Senior projects by architecture majors,” Prof. Marx told us. It was just like looking back into Alice’s Wonderland, they were so out of place and abnormal.
Looking over the borders of what Prof. Marx told us was all Cal Poly’s land, I saw the sun lighting up all the hills and green ground. In an interesting contrast, a fog wall was kept at bay just over the other hills. I thought about this for a while. It seemed to me that the fog on the outside world was ominous and threatening, and the sun shining on Cal Poly was warm and safe. It made me realize that going to college seems like a big step out of our parent’s house and into the real world, but we’re still not completely on our own. The real world is still out there and it doesn’t care whether we fail or succeed. While we are still in school however, everybody wants you to reach your goals. For a moment this made me nervous, but I realized I still have four years to prepare for the world, and I’m up to the challenge.
From then on, I concentrated on the hike. Prof. Marx told us about the flora on the mountain and a little bit about the geography. One plant in particular called yucca, which has a small bush of very sharp leaves on the bottom of a tall stalk that only blooms once in its life. Prof. Marx explained that the ground in this mountain is filled with a rock called serpentinite which prevents most plants from growing. Certain grasses, however, such as deer grass, California brome, and purple needle-grass thrive in this type of soil.
Finally, we reached the top of the mountain. I sat down heavily on a rock to catch my breath, and lost it immediately when I looked up. The view was spectacular. Right when I looked up, the clock tower on campus rang the hour, and three red tailed hawks circled over head. For a moment I could not even think as I took in the sight around me. Directly below was the Cal Poly Campus, and if I looked hard enough I could distinguish specific buildings. Off to the right beyond the hills was Morro Bay and the water looked blue and calm from this distance. On the left was Pismo Beach and with a pause for the mountain directly in front of me, there was almost a one hundred eighty degree view of the ocean.
We began our descent down the front of the mountain shortly after the rest of the group arrived at the peak. The going was slightly easier, but quite a bit muddier. I never fell, being one of the lucky ones, but my shoes were sucked into the slime multiple times. We passed the famous ‘P’ on the side of Poly Mountain and came upon a wide meadow of green grass. At last, I stumbled out of the mud, and onto a gravel road. Walking away from the group and back down to my room, I reflected on my change of attitude during the course of the hike. At the beginning, not only was I tired, but also not too excited about the land belonging to Cal Poly. As I walked across campus, I realized how proud I was to belong to such a beautiful community. Parts of the land seem virtually untouched by man and visiting them seem like an escape back to the time before motor cars and irrigation farming. Where past generations of Cal Poly’s eager developers may have made mistakes, we are in the process of rectifying the problems and nudging the land back towards its natural habitat. Also, I realized that while the natural land is a wonderful place to visit, I’d prefer to stay in my world of non-fat latté’s and cranberry scones.