Alida Vink

January 16, 2005

Eng 134- Marx

Experiencing Cal Poly Land


Walking up to meet my class for our 7:30 am hike, I was dreading our strenuous excursion up Poly Canyon and over Poly Mountain. However, after looking up at the clear blue skies, listening to the birds singing good morning, and feeling the crisp breeze my opinion soon changed. As we started along the trail, tall trees lined the left hand side with their huge branches stretching outwards as if their arms were open, welcoming us to dive into the serenity of their natural world.

Walking through the gate and onto the trail, I was suddenly eager to learn about and experience my environs. Soon we were passing the final Cal Poly buildings, such as the slaughter house, Arboretum, and the cattle unit. In the distance, the sun was just beginning to rise above the mountain top. Cattle were grazing on the grass, fresh after two days of constant rain. I suddenly realized how beautiful and wondrous nature is. The creek to our left provided a calming noise of running water, all the while growing louder, until a waterfall appeared right behind a cattle farm. Prof. Marx explained that it was man-made and how it damaged the ecosystem by carrying the toxins from the cattle waste into the creek. This eventually raised the Nitrogen content of the water, making it impossible for fish to thrive in the stream.

            My interest was rising, and I wanted to know everything about my surroundings. I asked Professor Marx what poison oak looks like, to be sure that I don’t touch any and was amazed to see a whole hillside filled with brown, twiggy looking bushes, all of which were poison oak. The trail went on, curving left and right, sometimes leaving us blinded to what might lie beyond the bend. With Caballo Peak to our left and Poly Canyon to our right we continued on the path, approaching a barren spot. This lack of vegetation was due to the Eucalyptus trees that were present. Some of the tree trunks were wider than my arm span in diameter, and all of them seemed to be shedding parts of their trunks, possibly stripped of them as a result of harsh winter rain and wind. Eucalyptus trees are not native to the area, and they release a poison into the ground that prevents biodiversity. Prof. Marx then pointed out another form of poison oak prospering in the area near the Eucalyptus trees. Each part was split into three leaves, the middle one being longer than the outer two, and all having jagged edges. My eyes took in everything, darting from left to right seeing every bush and flower but unable to identify the majority of what I saw. Further down the trail a bright, orange color caught my eye. Willows were covering a large area by the creek and they stood out among the drab browns of their surroundings that were not yet brought to life after the harsh winter weather. Professor Marx grabbed a bay leaf and snapped it in half releasing a strong smell that cleared my sinuses. Coming out of what seemed like a tunnel between the two mountain ridges, we spotted a group of deer on the top of a cliff. They seemed to be enjoying the morning sun and the fresh grass.

            Crossing a bridge that was built as a senior project by a group of Cal Poly students, we began ascending the mountain. The ground became muddy and slippery, and I heard many of my classmates shriek as they were brought tumbling to the ground. After making our way up the small path, we decided to take a break. Turning around, I saw a beautiful view. The changing seasons created spotted looking hills, with green grass in some spots and brown in others. This is due to the presence of introduced grasses that have out-competed and replaced the native grasses that still spot the hillsides but were unable to adapt to heavy animal grazing. The Union Pacific Railroad tracks cut the horizon, standing out among the grass surrounding the tracks, and then curved its way across the land. In the background the tall hills looked dark green, covered with vegetation, and in the middle ground the cattle looked like little black dots. The clouds were rolling over the farthest hills, making it seem like a blanket was being thrown over the land, hiding its beauty.

            The sun was just beginning to rise above Poly Mountain, blinding us as we resumed our climb. Hiking the rest of the way up was a challenge, but reaching the top was well worth the energy. Taking that last step and then looking outward made me feel exhilarated, like a kid looking at their Christmas presents under a tree. The beautiful site was a gift to my eyes. I could see the whole campus below me. Cars were scurrying like little ants along the roads, and people were barely visible. I could hear the bell ringing on campus, signaling that it was nine o’clock, the faint dinging noises echoing throughout the hills. Behind the campus, and all of the houses and buildings, the California coast mountain range was spread out in front of me. Amazingly, you could view the ocean for a full 180 degrees, Pismo beach to the left and Morro Bay to the right. It was beautiful to see the deep blue ocean next to the dark green rolling hilltops that poked upward into the baby blue sky, where a few dark clouds dotted the atmosphere, left over from the storm that came the day before.

            As I stood there in awe, I realized how lucky we are to live on such beautiful land. Taking in a few more breaths of fresh mountain air, I began my descent down Poly Mountain. Passing the infamous “P” on the hillside, that is part of a long held tradition at Cal Poly, I noticed that it is beginning to slip at the base, slowing moving its way down the hill. The white paint on the P is dripping along with the muddy terrain, the stakes and the support for the large concrete mass all seemed to be falling apart with the stress of the downward pull. I wondered what efforts would soon be made to save the P from destruction. Reaching the bottom of the trail, I prepared to join the people now making their way around campus for another hectic day.