Today’s the 43rd anniversary of my arrival on this planet. I wish I had one
of those Pulled From the Head of A God stories of my birth, but I suspect it
was mostly normal. Or at least as normal as anything involving me could be.

I liked 42 better because it was Douglas Adams’ answer to the ultimate question
of Life, the Universe and Everything, but this one will do. People ache and
whine and moan over their accumulating years but as far as I’m concerned, I’d
rather be accumulating them above ground.

So I’ve been taking a little mini-vacation — call a six-day weekend — and
as has been my habit of late I’ve been wandering the countryside with my handy
digicam to document the visual highlights. It’ll have to do till they perfect
the transmissions of smells and sensations over the Internet. Today’s pix are
in three parts: Day 1 was at Coyote Hills Park and Don Edwards National Wildlife
Refuge; Day 2 was at Grant County Park; Day 3 was a day trip Melissa and I took
to Mendocino, a nifty little coastal burg about 200 miles north of us.

Day One: Coyote Hills and Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge

Coyote Hills Park is in the background from this spot at the wildlife refuge.
The hills are just high enough to provide a mild workout and offer great views
of the surrounding countryside. The southern end of the San Francisco Bay forms
the park’s western boundary.

Lots of cool rocks in the Coyote Hills. Didn’t see any coyotes, but I’m sure
they’re sneaking around somewhere.

Weather was cold, windy and all-around nasty, but that’s a good motivator to
keep moving down the trail.

From the top of the hills, the marshes beckon. And besides, the wind’s not
so biting down there.

Though the arrival of winter rains has greened up the hills a bit, brown is
the operative color. Any dab of brighter color on the landscape is an excuse
to take a picture. These seem to be wild berries that ripen at this time of

A boardwalk goes right out into the middle of the marsh.

The prettiest pictures need no caption.

Ducks must be the hardiest of waterfowl. Seems like every body of water bigger
than a mud puddle has a few.

Those are the highlights of the Coyote Hills. After a few hours there I hopped
in the car and drove over to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, which is
just down the road a couple miles.

There weren’t many birds around … my hunch is that many of them have migrated
by now. This wading bird was kind enough to stick around and have its picture

More trees doing wacky stuff. You think all a tree has to do is lean toward
the light and produce leaves, but around here they seem to have so much more

This tree looks like it was sent in from the plains of Africa.

The first explorers who came to the San Francisco Bay reported seeing millions
of birds that would set off a roar when they took off in flight. As more people
arrived, the birds began to disappear. I saw a few hundred, max. Just one more
example of humans not being worthy of such a swell planet.

Day 2: Grant Count Park

Grant County Park has something like 50 miles of trails, with lots of hills,
trees and wildlife. I was lucky lucky to have sunny, breezy weather (this time
of the year it rains about every other day) and mostly dry trails. The park
has flatlands, steep hillsides, shady groves of trees — just about everything
but people, if you go on a weekday as I did.

I was hiking up to a place called Scenic Overlook, which faces out over Silicon
Valley. High winds and storms from a few weeks back must’ve knocked this tree

"Hey, look, it’s George W. Bush’s heart." I know, I need to get over
the election.

Walking up hills framed by cloud-dotted skies helps.

Here’s the top of the trail. Nice of them to leave that picnic table. I had
me some lunch and headed back down the hill.

These fence slats with their coating of moss are rather quaint. I don’t think
that fence could hold back a strong breeze after all these years, though.

OK, Cool Dead Tree No. 9349. Turns out there was something even cooler about
this one.

See, it’s full of all these holes, each of which has an acorn tightly wedged
into it. At first I wondered if squirrels were the culprits, but I found out
later that this is the work of "acorn woodpeckers," which carve these
holes in dead trees and fill them with acorns. A whole flock of woodpeckers
will use this tree to store months worth of seeds to last all winter.

I walked about 11 or 12 miles at the park. Didn’t see any wildlife, though
I’m almost positive I heard the snorting of wild pigs that live on the grounds.
I hear these pigs can grow big, ugly tusks. I’m not into finding out for sure,
though. It’s just too humiliating to be chased across a park by a pig.

Day 3: Mendocino (and Fort Bragg)

So Mendocino just sits there along the coast and all these tourists coming
over from Wine Country tours stop by and pay absurd prices for stuff.

The town has cute Victorian homes, lovely shops and these great big old water
towers that date to the time when people here had to work for a living doing
stuff like fishing and cutting trees.

We found this little burger joint tucked in behind a bunch of shops. This old
guy grills the burgers and does crosswords while the food’s cooking.

Melissa brings lunch: Two quarter-pound cheeseburgers, two orders of fries,
two Cokes — $24.50. Nothing like Disneyland prices to get you in the mood for

Model sailboats in a shop window. It’d be a shame to part with such a prize,
which might explain the markup. (I didn’t see the price tag on it, but the eight-dollar
cheeseburgers told me not to expect bargains at the shops down the street).

Santa Season!

One shop sells humorous paintings by a local artist. This one is titled "Heaven."

Melissa scans the wares at the local yarn shop.

A newspaper from 1928, when another Republican won the presidency. Can’t help
hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

While we were in the area, we drove up the road to Fort Bragg and stopped in
for a beer at the North Coast Brewing Company, which is billed as one of the
world’s best brewpubs.

Oatmeal stout, a couple kinds of ale and a pilsner. You tell from the foam
that this is the good stuff. I haven’t sampled all the world’s brews, mind you,
but this is some kick-ass beer, definitely among the best I’ve ever had. (Most
brewpubs would be better off serving Budweiser but this place had beer crafted
by a true brewmaster. Sure, it’s a 220 mile drive, but it’s worth it.)

Large stuffed Elk on wall not approved by the Sierra Club, I assume.

We found some cliffs to watch the sunset. I love the way pointing a digicam
at the sun at this time of night creates the impression of an atomic blast going

Melissa was definitely coveting that house on the coastline.

And that’s the last of it.