Nature Surprises During a Sunday Drive

The key principle underlying the power of Nature to inspire is how easily Nature surprises. And in those surprises, our minds are suddenly removed from dwelling on the daily mundane, and instead propelled into contemplating the wonder of life.

The surprise can be seeing a flash of bright blue as a screaming Scrub Jay flies through the shrubbery, an emerging wild cucumber vine pushing up through moist clods of earth, or a coyote sitting quietly in a vacant lot, looking right at you.

Today, for us, it was spying a beautiful stand of old-growth mission manzanita chaparral (aka, Xylococcus bicolor) in a wild canyon surrounded by rural living, bisected by the signs of human activity. But there it was, remaining pristine, rich with native life forms, a remarkable island of hope.

We had been on a Sunday journey to find an accessible deposit of diorite, a granite-like, plutonic igneous rock that we needed to complete our backyard, graphic version of the rock chart, a useful teaching tool used to help teach the intrigues of geology.

Don’t get us wrong, the diorite expedition was a wonderful adventure. Jumping over fences in Valley Center in northern San Diego County looking for rocks, a place not known for welcoming the curious, provided a lot of memorable moments.”Can I help you, eh?””Just looking for a good piece of diorite.””?”

But when we turned down a random side road to explore the local wilds, suddenly seeing the red branches of ancient Xylococcus shrubs reach for the sky was, well, a stunning surprise.

And the biodiversity, from the yellowing leaves of California’s own native citrus, bushrue (Cneoridium dumosum), to the wild lichens thriving on the Xylococcus dead wood, all sang together in the most inspiring, delicate ways.

Nature surprises.

Let it happen to you, like next Sunday.

Breathe Again – Become a Chaparral Naturalist

Our New Class Begins February 25, 2023.
Please Join Us by Applying on Our Website.


There’s nothing quite like discovering kindred spirits at a neighborhood pub. Apparently, everyone had been forewarned and was happy about it – I had come to recruit for Nature, with flyers in hand.

The friendly spirits I encountered led to the only reasonable response one could have at a pub. “Well,” I slowly announced with the grizzled cowboy accent I often use at times like this, “I need to join ya all in a drink.”

As I rose to go to the bar, I was quickly informed I could just scan the code embedded in the tabletop and order that way. I looked at the hieroglyphics, waved my hand, and proceeded to the bar, muttering along the way, “Internet nonsense.”

I was greeted by a smiling bar tender, ordered an IPA she thought was best, and handed her my credit card. “Keep the tab open?” “Sure.” Before going back to the table with my brew, I handed the bar tender the flyer for our Chaparral Naturalist class that I pulled from my back pocket. “You look exactly like the kind of adventurous spirit we would love to have in our program!”

“You know, I might just do that!”

Class of 2015 – our first year

At some point during the evening, I was asked to say something about our class. I climbed up on the bench and provided a somewhat boisterous, encouraging message about how everyone there would enjoy our naturalist program because it would offer them a wonderful break from a hectic world. “Our class will help all of you remember how comforting and inspiring your original home really is – Nature!”

In the midst of my oratory, a pub employee came over and requested that I climb down from my platform. I complied after a quick quip, “But we’re having so much fun!” Everyone laughed. Back on the ground, I handed the employee the class flyer. “You’re the kind of leader we need. You should sign up to become a Chaparral Naturalist.”

He looked confused, but ended up leaving with a somewhat cautious, crooked smile on his face.

Class of 2016

As the evening slowed down, a few remaining hold outs nursed their stale beers. Then that quiet moment arrived when the pause between conversations lengthened and everyone wondered who would be the first to jingle their car keys and initiate the final, “Well, I gotta go.”

Someone did. Everyone got up and milled around the table, sharing good-byes and getting in one last story. I went to the bar to close out my tab, asking the guy cleaning up if he could do that. “No,” he said, but let me know he’d send over a server. Before he could turn away I told him he looked like an intriguing spirit, someone we’d enjoy having in our class. “So, hey, do you like being out in Nature?” “Well, yeah.” I handed him a flyer and returned to our little group.

I think he put the flyer in his pocket.

Class of 2017

Couple minutes later a manager-looking chap with a button-down shirt came over and gave me a quizzical look. “Are you the one who wants to close out your tab?” “Yeah.” “Well, we do that automatically,” he said with a you-must-be-one-of-those-tech-illiterates kind of look.

“But I gave the bar tender my card.”

“What?” he responded with a now-you-are-really-wasting-my-time kind of look. He went away, then returned a few minutes later with my receipt. “Here you go.” A pregnant pause. “Usually, people just scan the code right there to order,” he said with a final-knife-stab kind of tone while pointing at the hieroglyphic on the table.

At this point, I decided I really didn’t like the guy. Besides, he looked like a character on Star Trek Deep Space Nine that has always bugged me – Odo.

I thought about giving him a flyer, but didn’t.

I realized later that I’d made a mistake. The Chaparral Naturalist class is probably the exact experience the guy needed to get back into his body. But I let my negative emotions gain the upper hand. Not very Stoic of me.

We discuss Stoicism and other philosophical schools of thought in our Chaparral Naturalist class. They’re quite helpful to anyone who cares about the earth, especially during these challenging times. You see, our class isn’t just about local native plants and animals, but learning how to train our minds to deal with a world that often disregards them, and maintain the positive outlook so essential to a full life. We practice embracing the often-mentioned truth that one can’t control what others say or do, but one can control how one feels and reacts. We discuss the tools that remind us that we, and no one else, are in control of how we see the world. We utilize our species’ most defining quality, our consciousness, to construct a reality that defaults to possibilities rather than dwelling on tragedies.

Asking, “What good can come from this?”, is the a productive way to deal with any set-back.

However, such an approach takes time and practice to apply, even for the teacher.

Class of 2018

After arriving home and settling on the couch for a moment to relax, it quickly became clear that the universe was not done with me yet. I was subjected to a disturbing advertisement from Mark Zuckerberg while reading a news article on my phone. He was promoting his latest effort to make profits from exploiting our dopamine receptors – the so-called metaverse, living through an Oculus 3D headset. Yet another technological advancement that endeavors to separate us further from each other, reducing human contact in the most efficient manner.

My mind began to descend further into the abyss, but I was able to grab a dangling root and pull myself out.

Rather than dwelling on the darkness, I went to my go-to guru to recenter myself – Nature. I opened the window and listened to the frogs that live in a small pond in our yard. They were having a good time, oblivious to the metaverse; oblivious to me.

Human contact will prevail. It will take some time, but our innate desire for meaningful social contact will bring us back, rejecting efforts to manifest a Matrix-like existence. If two years of quarantine, online schooling, and remote living taught us anything, it’s that we thrive on actual human connections.

As the evening came to a close, I thought about how many human beings I’d met because of my Ned Ludd ways – rejecting the hieroglyphics, connecting with a bar tender, a server, a bus boy in person. Even my meet up with Odo was facilitated in the process. My bench standing was the result of the encouragement I received from my visit to the bar, the people I connected with, helping to reduce my naturally reclusive ways.

Class of 2019

One of the goals of our naturalist class is to learn how to utilize Nature as the grounding source for remembering what really matters, especially during set-backs. It’s all well and good to say we are in control of how we feel, that life is precious, and to live by all the familiar platitudes that emphasize the fact that You Only Live Once, but using such beliefs to live an inspired life is extremely difficult. Unless.

Unless one has a source to go to during times of difficulty, a personal philosophy to study, to refresh one’s belief in the preciousness of life, remaining centered in the face of negativity and daily set-backs, big or small, is about as successful as dieting.

There are an infinite variety of ways to develop a personal philosophy that works, but they all have one thing in common – a source of grounding. Our Chaparral Naturalist program helps one learn how to use a source that is readily available, no matter where one lives – Nature.

Class of 2020 – cut in half by COVID

As bed time approached, I was feeling pretty good about the evening. I was pretty sure I’d inspired at least a few people to sign up for our class. Filled with gratitude and not a small measure of self-congratulation, the universe did what it frequently does during times like this – it reminded me of humility.

As I began to brush my teeth, I noticed a large, black something stuck between my two front incisors, a fire-roasted chili pepper – a eye-catching flaw in my otherwise nice looking, Invisaligned-straightened smile. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I frothed out loud through the bubbling toothpaste. “No one thought to let me know about this thing while I was smiling and babbling away all night?” Oh, the embarrassment! The humiliation! People weren’t listening to my wisdom, but rather staring at a fire-roasted chili pepper. The entire evening defined, ruined, by a stray bit of salsa. The horror!

There was a time when such a catastrophe would have caused my mind to spin for days, dwelling on imagined impressions in other people’s minds, causing me to ignore the dozens of positive events that had transpired.

I took a moment and went outside in the cool night air to visit the little frog pond. I spied one of the small, tan-colored fellows on a rock. Above his blinking eye was a bit of green algae, making him appear like an aquatic Dennis the Menace. We talked for awhile. He’d never heard of fire-roasted chili peppers.

I think I heard my frog friend croaking a little laugh just before I fell asleep.

Class of 2022

Please join us in our 8th year as we begin our annual adventure to discover Nature in ways you never imagined. Classes will be held in our new classroom at our new retreat center, next to a thriving patch of chaparral we have established, and of course, near the frog pond. Meet real plants and animals. Connect with kindred spirits. Form new friendships. Smell the sage. Listen to Wrentits sing. Challenge your assumptions. Wave away the hieroglyphics.

Breathe again.

Sign up for our Chaparral Naturalist class starting February 25, 2023.

I Am Spring

October.
The time of heat and drought is ending.
Temperamental bouts of rain are near.
In anticipation,
manzanita flower buds are swelling, sagebrush flowers are blooming,
and White-crowned Sparrows are arriving.
Signs of me;
signs of spring.

Elsewhere,
dead of winter beckons,
flowers have faded,
leaves turning gold, red, and brown,
and the birds have left for richer land;
my land.
I am spring.

Varied is the land where I thrive,
changing with a turn to the south,
the interweaving branches unclasp
a bit,
exposing more of the ground
below
to the drying sun.
Turning northward,
the branches embrace themselves more tightly,
protecting moisture in the ground
below
with cooling shade.
And so, the multitudes, the diversity of life is enriched,
as habitat varies so many times,
so many places,
across the varied landscape where I thrive.
I am spring.

Chaparral broom boys, and chaparral broom girls,
emerging too.
In a month or two,
the fluffy flying pappus
of the girls
will dust the breezy air,
some blown so far away, others swirl on the ground,
tossed about like cotton candy,
caught between sticks and leaves,
like crystalized spindrift caught in rocky corners,
sparkling in the sun.

Soon will come,
a green snake twirling out,
a vine soon to sprout.
Tendrils, leaves, and blossoms
of pollen and egg
adjacent, separate,
and spiky, mace-like pods;
all from a tuber, hidden underground,
a wild manroot
filled with stored sunshine.

Temperature cools,
misty mountains whisp,
moist air arrives.
As does the snow,
of un-melting kind.
It forms high above, amongst the green,
released when spent,
falling to the ground,
a floral snow;
chaparral snow.

The green will be everywhere,
come January.
A bit more time,
blues mimic the sky,
covering the hills,
a colorful conclusion to what I reap.
And elsewhere?
Elsewhere looks around awaiting,
April showers to bring May flowers.
Why wait?
Cool, rainy days bring February bouquets.

By May,
or near abouts,
I am done.
So many flowers spent.
The last rain drop has long since past.
The sparrows are gone as well.
By June,
the plants are done,
and autumn begins.
Leaves curl, many drop,
buds shut down.
So much brown,
but this is when
botanical talents shine;
to survive so much dry,
for such a long time.

Now all await for October again;
for me.
I am spring.
I am spring in the chaparral.