It was a clear, sunny Saturday, climbing toward noon as I walked up the steep slope. Boccardo Trail is a new trail, accessible through a gate from Alum Rock Park, one point five miles up from the apogee of Todd Quick Memorial Trail.
As I said, the path is steep – a rise of one thousand feet, with several early switch-backs, one very long incline, and a few final switchbacks to a nameless peak overlooking the southern San Francisco Bay Area from the east.
As I was about to round a lower switch-back, a woman appeared around the bend from behind the high brush, and then jumped back out of sight. I continued for the remaining fifty feet or so, wondering whether I had scared her or whether (as I fantasized) she wanted to surprise me with something pleasant.
Just as I was about to round the turn, she appeared again, excitedly warning me about a rattlesnake in the path. There were other, younger people behind her.
Sure enough, there on the edge of the broad fire trail was a smallish, seemingly comatose snake stretched out in the sun. There was plenty of room to pass behind the silent rattles, so I did, without hesitating.
The fearful group of two adult women and several children between eight and twelve years seemed nonplused by my equanimity. I paused and explained that since the snake was stretched out, not coiled, it could not strike. Furthermore, it was facing away from us, not nervous and threatening.
The older woman seemed to absorb this and a few more of my comments rather quickly then proceeded down the hill. She was not with the others.
The remaining group seemed frozen with fear and awe and ignorance. The woman, well-dressed (as were the children, as if for a stroll in a shaded, manicured and level park in a cosmopolitan city), nervously extracted her cell phone from her fine leather handbag and made an urgent call to someone, explaining in meticulous detail the location and nature of the snake.
This apparently calmed her somewhat, for as I said goodbye to the children and proceeded upward (having had a restful pause to recover my wind), she completed her call and I could see, below, that the group had successfully navigated around the snake and were hurrying downhill.
I reached the 2000-foot peak in good order and enjoyed the view of the Santa Clara Valley and the mountains ringing the southern part of the bay.
After a lunch of cut grapefruit and steak (the latter leftover from the last evening’s dinner with my daughter), I ambled back down, careful not to put too much stress on my almost-recovered left knee, with help from my walking stick.
As I began the long descent on the straight-away before the final switch-backs, a four-wheel all-terrain-vehicle came toward me and I saluted the smiling ranger as he passed me by.
When I approached the lower switch-backs, the ATV returned from behind. I signaled that I would like to say something to the ranger. He is Doug, the lead ranger in Alum Rock Park, a pleasant man, perhaps 50, well-bearded with silver hair (he reminds me of my friend Lars-Erik in Sweden).
After we got a bit acquainted and compared notes about the new trail, I mentioned the incident with the snake. He acknowledged that he had received the worried phone call and was checking the trail (without apparent concern) to follow-through.
I told him of my amusement at the incongruity of the little hiking party with this part of the park, and he responded by saying something like “city people tend to get confused in these unfamiliar environs.” He was too polite to do more than gently smile.
We said our good-byes, and I proceeded downward to the place at the beginning of trail where, on the way up, I had seen some redwing blackbirds playing their mating games in the tall and profuse wild mustard plants. I got a pretty good photo of that red spot on the shiny black feathers surrounded by the bright green plants and the golden yellow of their flowers.
25 May 2002