Maple Trees Gone Wild…

and me along with them.

The last half of our hike was technically on the Webber Trail along Webber Creek.

The last half of our hike was technically on the Webber Trail along Webber Creek.


What’s Color Got to Do, Got to Do with It? Wasn’t that a hit song by Tina Turner back in the day? Oh yes, it was “love”… what’s love got to do with it.

But that works: On the same six-mile trail for the third time this week, I’m feeling the LOVE — drawn irresistibly back by the color.

In the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” Gwyneth Paltrow’s character speaks of love as a “riot in the heart, and nothing to be done.” Lost in a riot of color, I detect no boundary between love and the color surrounding me. Is it me, or would any reasonable, red-blooded person have to sigh?

Of course, I’m also crazy about this forest crowded with maple trees — miles of maple trees. Maple trees in every shade between green and yellow. Maples in full-on red. However, I’ve found the most seductive colors — the ones I can’t get out of my mind — are the oranges. How many shades of orange can there be? When the sun backlights the leaves, they look both luminous and iridescent.

I can’t seem to leave the trail (get it? “leave”) and go home for the memory of those incredible oranges. So I keep coming back.

But I’m getting ahead of my story.

West of Camp Geronimo below Milk Ranch Point, the Highline Trail passes through an old-growth, native forest. Hiking in, we encountered our first red maple. We stood stunned by its pure red leaves, from bottom to top. Cameras clicked. All around stood green pines and yellow oaks, already fading to brown.

As we climbed deeper into the forest, the trail faded to a thread. Plenty of deadfall lay all about, much of it across the trail. But after finally rounding our highest point, we enjoyed a snack break, using downed logs for furniture.

The last half of our hike was technically on the Webber Trail along Webber Creek. As we descended toward the creek, the trees merged into a mass of foliage and color, red on green. Some maples flared flamboyant red, others bright yellow — with infinite shades of orange in between. The sea of color flowed across the hillside, lurid trees carrying on beneath a canopy of ponderosa pines and large firs.

The forest morphed from beautiful to drop-dead gorgeous.

As we descended, discerning ears could detect a trickle of water. A rivulet from a spring flowed across the trail. We crossed on a few well-placed rocks. Up the slope, the water fell into a three-foot “bowl” carved out of mud and rock, cascading into a small cavern with an echoing gurgle. The sound pulled me into a seated position to listen, inducing a trance-like state. The little stream soon disappeared once more into the earth, shadowing the trail and re-emerging repeatedly for the next two miles.

The maples grew more intense as we proceeded downhill. Deep in the never-thinned forest, the maple trees have run amok — thickets of crimson. They have no well-manicured, finely shaped, or trimmed limbs. They’re just wild — and I mean WILD — maple trees, in all their natural glory.

Haunted by those deep reds, bright yellows and brilliant oranges, I returned two days after that first jaunt. Five days after that, I went back again! Why was I so compelled by shades of orange, coral, ocher, apricot, tangerine, peach, salmon and burnt orange? By the way, the colors themselves: red, orange and yellow, are stimulating to humans. I looked it up; it’s official.

Many “late-blooming” trees were still coming into their brilliance, although last weekend’s first winter storm has likely stripped away most of the leaves. On my quest, each day additional leaves entered their fall color cycle. But some were also drying and spent. I like to watch as the sun moves across the sky, the shifting light accentuating different areas of the forest, highlighting intricate arrangements of beauty. Even the so-called mess of shed leaves on the ground is admirable.

The gentlest whisk of wind loosened stems from their summer homes. The leaves make the softest of sounds as they float through other branches to finally land on a bed of gold, red, orange leaves. I listened, scarcely breathing, as one season gave way to the next.

Moving into lower elevations, I noticed wider tributaries, expanding the capacity of Webber Creek. Still within the flood-plain, soft, level grassy areas await my return for picnicking, napping or whatever.

Well, enough said. I’ll take a long, deep breath and allow my heart rate to normalize. All of that color — maybe I’ve gone a little wild myself.


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