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September 28, 2021

Fall in love with Fall Creek Park

The weathered sign that points to the hidden park stands unnoticed by the traffic moving up the mountain. In the small, dusty parking lot, tan oaks and poison oak surround the few cars.
Walking down the chaparral trail, I stop to admire the manzanitas, with their deep-purple bark and white flower bells. Manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish, and the berries, or apples, can be eaten raw or cooked to make sweets or wine.
The hazelnut bushes here attract squirrels like a candy store draws children. Indians competed against them for thousands of years, using the nuts to make meal for baking bread.
Woody Allen once remarked derisively about nature that with all the animals eating one another, “it’s one great restaurant out there.” That’s true, but our ecosystem is a great vegetarian restaurant, too.
As the chaparral becomes a forest, I hear the caw-natterings of a raven telling me to take a hike, but I am listening for a different sound. Then I hear it — water tumbling down Ben Lomond Mountain.
I can feel nature’s electricity being generated from the valley floor, where below me Fall Creek gallops over moss-covered boulders, splashing in and out of its borders.
Down by the bridge are brilliant green rugs of redwood sorrel. The clover-like ground cover closes up where the sun shines and bursts open in the shade of the redwoods, little pink flowers peeping out. Like miner’s lettuce, both were eaten by Indians and pioneers.
Fall Creek begins its life at the summit from secret springs. Unlike other streams dependent on surface water, which dry up in summer, seep springs create a continual oasis here as the creek flows down to the San Lorenzo River.
Judy Hill, a Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park docent, told me once: “I like standing on the bridge and taping the sounds of the water and the songs of the winter wrens.”
I listen for the wren, a tiny brown bird with a tail cocked upward and a song that can last up to 20 seconds.
I remember a late summer day when Judy and I were walking up the creekside trail and savoring the hushed forest. Suddenly she yelled, “Tiger lily!” and pointed. There it was at the end of a 3-foot stem, tossing its head like a beautiful woman.
Now rare, this native flower with brilliant orange petals festooned with purple dots was once common in the San Lorenzo watershed. But people began uprooting them and taking them home.
(Legend says that a Korean hermit saved a wounded tiger by removing an arrow, and the tiger asked its healer to continue their friendship beyond death. When the tiger died, the hermit turned its body into a tiger lily. Eventually, the hermit drowned and his body was washed away, but the tiger lily spread down the streams searching for his friend. )
The forest also gives us a canopy of magnificent trees, like the redwoods and madrones, to look up at in wonderment. But if we simply stop and look and listen, the forest will also give us small and precious gifts.
Judy and I will lead a free nature walk into Fall Creek Park soon, sponsored by the Environmental Committee for the Valley Women’s Club. Please e-mail me if you would like to join us.
At a glance: To get to Fall Creek: From Felton, go up Felton Empire Road. About a mile up, start looking for the sign on the right. Turn in to the parking lot. For information: 335.4598.
Carol Carson has been a docent for Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and has taught courses on Big Basin State Park for UCSC Extension. She is Co-Chair of Valley Women’s Club Environmental Committee and can be contacted at [email protected]

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