“Fortunately, the task of preparing this volume has been carried on by those who have had the feeling that a piece of work must be done, but who also have had a purpose to make it reveal beauty and exude the historical atmosphere of the region with which it is concerned.”

—Santa Barbara: A Guide to the Channel City and Its Environs (1941)

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Wildcrafted Salad

miner's lettuce Claytonia perfoliatumMiner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliatum) growing in profusion along a shady bank of Alder Creek in the Santa Ynez Mountains of Santa Barbara County.

Skills Are Weightless

“You have to travel light. . . And you have to be self-reliant. . . Bushcraft is a knowledge of nature that enables you to travel safely and relying upon nature to some extent for your sustenance, self support. It’s the knowledge our ancestors had. It’s the knowledge of First Nations. . . At its core is a love and understanding of nature.

Bushcraft transforms your view of the forest, that is for sure. In time you become much more perceptive. You look for tiny things in nature. It’s the small things that you notice that tell a big story. You gain this experience. . . With experience your subconscious can pick up all of those details and interpret them and use them to read the landscape.

The really sad thing is that when this knowledge is lost an interface with the land is lost. That’s the one thing that First Nations have that we should aspire to is this close tie to the land.”

-Ray Mears, “We Belong To It”

Miner’s lettuce was the first wild edible I learned to identify as a young boy, which is funny because the last thing I wanted to eat as a kid was something green and leafy that tasted bitterly of chlorophyll. Nowadays, however, I recognize what once seemed like trivial knowledge as great value.

The seasonal burst of annual herbs in the mountains of Santa Barbara County offers foragers an excellent opportunity to harvest wild edibles. Perhaps wildcraft is most valuable to overnight hikers far out on a distant trail in the remote stretches of roadless wilderness, where all supplies and most necessities to sustain and nourish the body, what so very little one can physically carry, must be laboriously lugged over rugged terrain in a backpack.

Wildcraft skills, like bushcraft, enable a person to limit the amount of bulk and weight they must carry on their back while in the forest. Knowledge and skills weigh nothing and take up zero space in a backpack.

What a person carries in their head they need not carry on their back.

Miner's Lettuce Claytonia perfoliatumMiner’s lettuce in bloom. The Chumash Indians harvested the tiny seeds for food.

A Typical Trip

Imagine a common backpacking experience. Let’s say we’re ten or twenty or thirty miles into the wilderness on foot, and for days we’ve been grinding away on and filling our bellies with nothing but dry and rehydrated foods.

Prepackaged backpacking meals, dense and grainy energy bars, nuts, jerky, pasta or maybe some warm and oily salami and cheese. It’s all decent trail food. But it sure isn’t fresh, succulent nor refreshing.

Nor does it invite one to look deeper and more keenly into the forest and ponder the natural value surrounding them, thus learning and acquiring a more intimate knowledge, understanding and, therefore, appreciation and respect for the wild world.

Johnny Jump-ups Viola pedunculata California native Santa BarbaraJohnny Jump-ups (Viola pedunculata) blooming beneath oak canopy in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Epicurean Class

One afternoon on our multiple day hike we spend time collecting a bundle of fresh wild greens from the forest surrounding camp. Grabbing a stick, we dig up and clean a handful of Calochortus flower bulbs, toss them in olive oil and fry them up over the campfire or set them atop a rock beside the flame to roast, which we later toss into the salad mix for added flavor and nutrients. We pluck fresh wild peas from the vine. We collect a handful of edible wildflower blooms like Johnny Jump-ups to add a colorful eye-catching accent to the lettuce, nutty-flavored roasted bulbs and crunchy sweet peas.

We lightly toss the freshly harvested fare with a smidgen of honey mustard balsamic vinaigrette we whipped up fresh at home before we hit the trail. Using our trusty bush knife we slice off a handful of cheese shavings from a small chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano we’ve totted along, and we sprinkle a dash of black pepper to top it all off.

The result?

Well, it’s “good stuff, Maynard.” And good for you.

calochortus Los Padres National Forest hikesA Calochortus bloom seen along the Santa Ynez River.

calochortus bulb Santa Barbara Los Padres National ForestRoasted Calochortus bulbs rank among my top five favorite wild plant edibles for their exceptional flavor.

Value-Added

There is also value beyond good flavor and fresh healthy sustenance. One great aspect of foraging is that it provides a wonderful reason to get out into the woods off-trail and roam and meander about in no particular direction, when one might not otherwise venture into the forest for lack of a reason to do so.

Many times a hike is almost entirely about the destination: a peak summit, a waterfall, a swimming hole, a campsite or sometimes it’s just for the exercise and fresh open air.

Foraging cuts against that all too common grain and encourages wandering into the less visited nooks and crannies. And in that ramble one never knows what they might find, either tangible or intangible, or how they may be enlightened and enriched.

Foraging is an activity that draws one closer to nature both in being observant and aware of minute seasonal details in the forest that otherwise, and often, go unnoticed, as well as in its requisite knowledge of native plants.

And when one begins to use nature, respectfully of course, it can lead to a depth of understanding and appreciation that, I think, is impossible to acquire by those people who treat the woods like a museum, something to be looked at but not touched, or those people who stomp down the trail only casting fleeting glances at their surroundings with little aim other than reaching their destination.

Foraging and wildcraft offer up, figuratively, new trails of adventure to explore. One may have hiked through a certain section of forest for years and never paid much if any attention to such fleeting seasonal details. In doing so they have missed the forest’s small embellishments that combine to create a much richer and interesting natural tapestry.

Perhaps nature is like a stereogram poster. It looks like one big blur at first glance, but if one gazes long enough an intricate and marvelous picture materializes that once was hidden from plain sight. All one must do is look for it.

Miners Lettuce saladMiner’s Lettuce (Claytonia Pefoliatum) and Johnny Jump-ups (Viola pedunculata), two native California edibles which can be found growing together seen here along the Fremont Trail in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Don’t Just Survive, Thrive

Drawing on a little knowledge of nature, and with a bit a foresight and preparation, a backpacker far from the city can wildcraft a fresh, succulent and nutritious delicacy worthy of an classy urbane restaurant.

And while a salad may not alone serve sufficiently as an entire meal, I imagine the grim and rugged crowd scoffing at the thought of a wimpy salad after hiking all day in scorching sun, it surely provides an exceptional side dish to accompany whatever else is prepared in camp.

Although, when done well, that salad may just steal the show.

wild edibles peas Santa Barbara foragingNative wild peas in the pod.

wild peas Los Padres Santa Ynez Santa Barbara hikingThese wild peas are tender yet crisp, and sweet tasting. Their flavor may be as good as some of those one might buy at a grocery store, they’re just smaller in size. Toss ’em in a salad plain or collect a pot full to boil over the campfire and smother in butter or extra virgin olive oil.

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Yosemite Falls

Lower and Upper Yosemite FallsLower and Upper Yosemite Falls, March 2015.

“One of Yosemite’s oldest historic trails (built 1873 to 1877), the Yosemite Falls Trail leads to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall, which rises 2,425 feet (739 m) above the Valley floor.”

-National Park Service

And then there is Yosemite National Park. What can be said of Yosemite? What can be said that has not already been said ad nauseam?

I have been there a couple of times since I began this weblog, but I never mentioned it nor posted a photo because it seemed cliched to do so, a snapshot of Yosemite Valley a cliche on film. It is so near perfect, and has been photographed so many times, anything I thought to offer up seemed superfluous.

The wilderness park’s iconic characters, whether waterfalls or granite monoliths or grassy conifer-framed meadows, have seemingly been photographed in every light at every season from every angle and described with every word and turn of phrase conceivable. 

What could I possibly add?

I do not want to add to the excess in an attempt at translating into language the natural majesty of Yosemite. And I doubt that I could cobble together a fresh and original string of words with a few images that was worthy of the place.

I typically hate using well-worn words like this, and do not like telling but prefer language to show. This time, however, I’ll just say, despite my recent posting of a critical opinion of trip reports and not wanting to “waste the time of readers with unnecessary, empty words and pointless rambling,” that the hikes in the park are awesome in the true sense of the term. (Ugh. That was awful!)

Here I offer a few snapshots from the Yosemite Falls Trail. Round trip it’s 7.2 miles with at least 5400 feet of elevation gain/loss. There are 66 switchbacks in the first mile alone! The trail climbs steep talus slopes up a wall of granite. From the valley below it looks impossible that a trail leads up the mountain.

Yosemite Falls Hike

Yosemite Hikes WaterfallsMrs. Elliott heading into yet another series of switchbacks as we near the top of Upper Yosemite Falls.

Half Dome Yosemite Falls Trail hikeUpper Yosemite Falls rainbowsDouble rainbows at the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls.

Upper Yosmite Falls Half Dome

Yosmite Falls HikeTopping out and heading toward the precipice.

Upper Yosmite Falls creek pool hikeA pool above Upper Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls HikingThe Mrs. scrambling toward the edge, Yosemite Valley far below.

Upper Yosemite Falls viewLooking over the edge at Upper Yosemite Falls.

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Rattlesnake Falls, San Rafael Wilderness

Rattlesnake FallsDavidStillman.com standing beside Rattlesnake Falls deep in the Santa Barbara backcountry on a recent backpacking trip, the creek a tributary of the Wild and Scenic Sisquoc River.

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Fritillaria Ojaiensis, Rare Wildflower

Fritillaria ojaiensis checkered lily rare endangered santa barbara santa ynez mountainsA single Fritillaria ojaiensis growing along Fremont Trail in the Santa Ynez Mountains. This photo is from early spring 2014.

This variety of lily is endemic to California. It’s listed by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) as being rare throughout its range, considered to be an endangered species. I completed a California Native Species Field Survey Form for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The data will purportedly be added to the state’s Natural Diversity Database, which according to CNPS is “the largest, most comprehensive database of its type in the world. It presently contains more than 65,000 site-specific records on California’s rarest plants, animals and natural communities.”

Checkered Lily Mission Bells Fritillaria ojaiensis rare endangered Santa Barbara
Fritillaria ojaiensis leaf Santa YnezA Fritillaria ojaiensis leaf sprouting from a bank along Oso Creek in the Los Padres National Forest. There is a fairly large grouping of them at this site, more than 100 individual plants. Photo from February 2015.

Fritillaria ojaiensis Santa Barbara County Los Padres National ForestWith more sun exposure the leaves take on a bronze hue.

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Antimony and Eagle Rest Peaks, San Emigdio Mountains

Antimony Peak San Emigdio MountainsAntimony Peak

I strive to not waste the time of readers with unnecessary, empty words and pointless rambling. I have never had much interest in writing “trip reports” or “trail reports.” I have done that, I suppose, but it is not what I’m after here.

I typically find such posts tedious to read and boring to write. The title itself, report, connotes something dry and institutional, something constructed like a document that one laboriously wades through with two fingers pressed to the temple, rather than a mellifluously crafted story that entertains and delights.

Antimony Peak San Emigdio Mountain hikeAntimony Peak

I started this blog, in part, to fill a void, to offer wilderness literature, something that speaks to the human condition and universal themes in the context of hiking and outdoor recreation in my backyard at large. What trip report information I may include I’d prefer to be incidental not central.

Trail conditions change. Aside from the tedium of reading bland, uninspired, blow-by-blow descriptions of the forest’s contents found along a trail, as if listing the arrangement of furniture in a house, trip reports become, sooner or later, largely pointless.

A trail report written in fall may become useless just several months later after a rainy winter, full of information which no longer accurately reflects the reality of conditions on the ground.

Eagle Rest Peak San Emigdio MountainsEagle Rest Peak, the checkered patches of San Joaquin Valley in the distance.

David Stillman Eagle Rest Peak hikeThe indefatigable Stillman taking in the view.

San Emigdio Canyon upperThe view into San Emigdio Canyon.

Whereas a story about what a man feels and thinks when out hiking, if properly written, is timeless. That is what I aspire to. Perhaps I have failed miserably, but I hope I have achieved something close to that on occasion.

I also thought, after years of wandering cyberspace and reading various local blogs, that the natural world surrounding my hometown was being ignored and when mentioned was given short shrift. There were plenty of websites covering metropolitan life in Santa Barbara ad nauseum; the city and county, its social life, arts, restaurants, viticulture, entertainment and the like. But few sites gave voice to the natural world in a manner I thought it well deserved.

Most sites I did see focusing on the outdoors were not doing it justice. The posts were hastily put together, thin and superficial. Many were little more than photo journals with verbose captions or they read like itineraries of a person’s outings. First we hiked here, and then we turned there, had lunch over here, continued on up there, and finally came back over here. A lot of telling was going on, but little if any showing. The content lacked feeling and depth.

Eagle Rest Peak San Emigdio hikesThe push up to Eagle Rest summit.

Eagle Rest Peak Stillman San Emigdio Wind WolvesEagle Rest Peak

Eagle Rest Peak view of San Joaquin ValleyThe view looking over San Joaquin Valley.

San Emigdio Canyon Wind Wolves Preserve HikingDropping from Eagle Rest into upper San Emigdio Canyon.

San Emigdio Canyon hikingSan Emigdion Canyon hikingUpper San Emigdio Canyon. With no trail and waist to chest high scrub brush in sections, it was a long, hot, tiresome fight up the canyon.

I held off posting anything on a hike DavidStillman.com and I did awhile back because I had nothing worthy to say about it. I offer here in this installment a bare collection of photos with little said of the experience.

Jack Elliott Eagle Rest Peak hike San EmigdioEagle Rest Peak

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