I had never thought of nature and English as going hand in hand until an English fieldtrip through Poly Canyon. Our class was to meet at 7:30am at the trailhead. I am not a person that likes to arise early. I did not look forward to a 6 am alarm to perform my morning ablutions . I was still groggy when the group met. I was also freezing, despite my multiple layers of clothes. All I wanted to do was to crawl back into my warm cozy bed. Once we stepped into the canyon however, I changed my mind.
I have always been fascinated by nature and enjoyed the outdoors. When I was younger, my family would go on hikes through many different areas of the country. We hiked in the damp forests of Oregon, the dry deserts of southern California, and the grassy plains of Wyoming. I now go up to Oregon as often as time and money allow. I love to wander among the forests and rivers. I drink in the beauty of the sights, sounds and smells of the area. The aroma of pine trees and moist soil permeate everything. To me it is a fresh, clean scent. I constantly see wildlife flitting, hopping, and bounding through the forest. I listen to the birds singing in the ancient redwoods and creeks bubbling cheerfully. To me that is the perfect place to be, far away from the traffic, lights, and pollution of cities. When I was in a photography class, all of my photos were of natural sites. Flowers, creek beds, and rolling hillsides all found their way into my lens. It was my way of capturing the peace and purity of nature. Perhaps this is why I had a dual reaction to Poly Canyon.
We started down the canyon just as sun was coming up. The beauty of the bright sun rising over the canyon rim stopped me on the trail. It was as if nature had decided to put on a show just for us. The sun ever so slowly drew back the curtain of darkness and revealed the curved hills and shadowed valleys of the canyon we had entered. Our halting pace allowed me to further absorb my surroundings. We spotted a family of deer walking up the hillside grazing contentedly. All along the dirt and gravel trail, small and medium sized waterfalls gracefully trickled or cascaded down the hills and into a large stream on our left. This stream, the swollen Brizziolari creek, was flowing towards its destination; the union between itself and Stenner creek to form San Luis Obispo Creek in the downtown area. It made lovely gurgling and rushing noises that reminded me of the Oregon rivers I love .
After trekking through the canyon for a while, we arrived at the switchbacks that run up the rear of Poly Mountain. Halfway up I stopped and gazed out upon the large valley. The peaks in the distance still wore their foggy blankets as if they were trying to sleep in. Cows munched the soft green grass all across the landscape. From my vantage point I could also see the bizarre structures in Poly Canyon Design Village. Only one other man-made building nestled in this bright green pasture. The Peterson ranch house, built long ago but restored by the university, sat at the lowest point in the valley. Off to the left I could see a where there had been a rockslide, the brown of the dirt stood out starkly against the grasses on the hillside. I was not surprised to find that the name of that peak was Rockslide Ridge. We moved onward from this stunning view, as we still had a long way to travel up the steep mountainside.
At the top of the mountain [SM15]we were rewarded with a 360¡ view of the land surrounding us. I looked down upon the campus that I traverse daily. I had always thought of the campus[SM16] as large and spread out, but from up there it seemed almost [SM17]possible to walk its expanse in no more than five minutes. My gaze swept across the town that I now call home and I realized just how tiny it is compared to my home town of San Diego. I realized that San Luis Obispo was nestled in a valley protected by the Irish Hills on one side and the Santa Lucia Range on the other[SM18]. As I looked across to the mountains on the opposite side of the valley, I spied the sun-kissed ocean peeping around the peaks in two locations, one to my left and one to my right. I felt as if I were on an island blessed by gods. I was surrounded by water the color of blue ice on one side and by high misty peaks on the other. I wished that I was the first to see this sight. I knew that I would have done all I could to protect it and keep it pure. However, I realized I was not the first to gaze down from the peaks. Countless eyes, from long ago, have seen this same view.
Unfortunately for the land around Poly Canyon and Mountain, the past generations did not treat it well. A waste dump was once located on Poly Mountain and it now pours its residual toxins down the mountainside and into the creek. A cattle yard and some bullpens dump their manure and other wastes into the creek and surrounding countryside. Worst of all, a vehicle drove by drunken teens plunged into the creek a few years ago, leaking its foul fuel into the water of Brizziolari Creek. Brizziolari Creek merges with Stenner Creek, which converges withSan Luis Obispo Creek, which flows through downtown, seeping poisons that affect the whole region. Fish in the creeks cannot handle the toxicity of the water and die. Wildlife that uses the creek to stave off dehydration also suffers from the past ravaging of the environment. Luckily, current generations have discovered the beauty of the area and are cleaning up San Luis Obispo County and trying to repair what damage was done.
Now that I have awakened to the beauty and grace of the lands surrounding Cal Poly, I have also awakened to the dangers that threaten it. Hopefully, someday the creeks, rivers, soils, and rocks of San Luis Obispo County will all be free of the taint of irresponsible humanity. Perhaps by then, we will all have awakened to the wild call of nature and learned to appreciate its delicate beauty.