Linnie Aikens Arts and Letters • HeART Haven Studios

Big Trees State Park, Calaveras, CA

Today I took a day trip to Big Trees State Park, which is near Arnold, CA.  Now I’ve been to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon, and even Big Sur a number of times, but I’d never been here.  What’s great about Big Trees is that a lot of work has been done to provide education about the redwoods and their history.  Sort of an outdoor museum, there’s a walking tour with an attendant guide book for each numbered stopping point on either “The South Trail” or  “The North Trail”.   I was both enthralled and horrified to read the stories for each tree.



After the first visitors (as opposed to native peoples living in the area) “discovered” these big trees, like Zion, explorers, adventurers and artists were drawn to the area.  It was in the mid 1800‘s, however that a circus company heard about them and came a chopped down a tree 30ft in diameter--The “Discovery Tree”.  They took slices of it on tour!  The stump that was left was large enough to hold dances on it when a hotel was later built nearby.



Other trees were similarly cut down, large chunks taken out of the middle and rest left as a testament of man’s greed and shortsightedness for centuries to come.  Additionally, the avarice of man again prompting the slicing and stripping off the entire bark of another tree called “Mother of the Forest,” and then they later in NY and England’s “Crystal Palace” reassembled the bark to portray the tree!!  The tree still stands, now scarred and black from fire burns, for without its protective bark, it wasn’t able to completely withstand the rage of fires through the area over the centuries like the trees surrounding it.  I look at this tree and I just want to cry.


For a little perspective, this is how large these trees are!!  I have to comment here, and it’s MY blog, so I’m allowed to stand upon my don’t have to read it!  As horrified as I was by the centuries old thoughtlessness of man, I was equally appalled by treatment of these natural living and non-living artifacts by the visitors, young and old even now.  


Great pains had been taken to define a trail with borders, signs posted asking viewers to stay on the trail, and not only kids, but their parents were climbing all over the trees!  Some weren’t even paying attention as they were ripping bark of the trees and pulling tiny saplings up from the ground in a careless arm swing and hand grab!!!!  At first I asked myself, “Where are their parents?”  (I know, ever the obnoxious teacher!)  Still, where were they?  They were tromping all over the understory with their kids, all over the delicate ferns and wild ginger, the only plants that seem able to grow under redwoods.  I was shocked to see a few people carve their names into these trees as countless others appeared to have done.


At the risk of sounding like my parents, or worse, my great grandparents, I kept thinking, “When I was a kid, parents spent time teaching us values, including how to respect nature and when entering a wild area to ‘take only photographs and leave only footprints.’  I know I worked hard to teach my own daughters the same...hence the absurd amount of Junior Ranger programs in which I ‘encouraged’ her to participate in our travels.  When I was a kid, kids were OUTSIDE.  We were forced to interact with the environment and respect it.  Now, students have so much more environmental science than we ever did, but they have no opportunity for application.  They somehow don’t realize that what they learn in school translates to real life out here in the wild.”   So while my sisters bemoan all the camping, hiking, backpacking we “had to do” when we were kids, and while my own girls often bemoan the same, ALL of them have a healthy appreciation and active respect for nature.  Again, I truly don’t mean to sound self-righteous, although I know I do here....I’m just sad is all.  I wish we all cared more for others and nature.  We have so much that we take for much glorious beauty and creativity in our world!    ‘Nuff said!


Now some trees were felled due to natural events, wind, storms, lightening, etc.  There’s something that happens in nature that always reminds me that while God may allow the natural order of things, including the consequences of man’s sometimes careless havoc in life,  he must also step in to soften the blow by revealing something of beauty from that event.  Like when a loved one passes, a new loved one is born, or after a destructive storm there’s a rainbow, or after a wildfire blooms a glorious field of bright magenta fireweed, or when a torrential river carves out a canyon, intricate alcoves and layers of rock are revealed, or hoodoos in the desert, or caves in the sea cliffs, fossils, sand and seaglass on the shore......  


This is where my artist’s eye took over!  If you look at the underside of an uprooted redwood, weathered to a shine with time, it resembles a beautiful abstract explosion.  It’s very much like the effect of  lightning hitting sand, which creates beautiful glass abstract sculptures that look just like these tree bases!



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"The Big Round-up" - Family Ranch in Calaveras County, CA

The ranch had cows.  Or is it cattle?  I’m showing my city girliness now I realize.  My cousin, the big animal vet in town, was letting her cows (mom cows and their calves) graze on her parents’ ranch.  Today was weaning day, which meant round-up time.  I was all expecting to watch my relatives saddle up and lasso those cows, herd and hog tie them!  My aunt looked at me and laughed!  “Oh Linnie Jean, no one uses horses any more unless we have to!”  So Santa Barbara beach girl that I am, I decided I’d better help them by getting out of the way, so I stood outside the corral and grazing area and watched my family do modern round-up.  (...and why do aunts tend to call us by our first and middle names even at 50+?  It's hard to not feel like I'm 6 again!)


Like a relay, my young cousin drove her little pickup over the pasture and herded them nearer to the corral, where my aunt sat waiting in her pickup loaded with a bale of good hay. 


When the cows got close to the second truck, my aunt drove inside the corral.  She stopped at the other end of the corral, jumped out, calling enticingly with the cow delicacy.  It sounded humorously similar to how I'd heard her for decades call her cats..."here kitty kitty..."

The tiny herd nie stampeded to get to that meal!  Both trucks were parked outside and the cows were permitted to indulge a bit while the next phase of the round-up was prepared.  My uncle prepping the gates and pens, first closing the initial gates then opening the others, creating a maze of sorts into a smaller holding pen, which usually was an eating area for the horses (long put away before this).  

Then my cousin separated the calves from their moms and my aunt and uncle “shoooood” all the calves into the maze.  Lots of MOOing, going on, I can tell you that!!



I kept wondering what the other 2 men present (besides my uncle) were going to do!  Alas, that’s Aikens women for you—doing the work of 2 men, and faster to boot!!  Here’s this 5’1” tiny woman out there herding cows in her tennies!!  Granted, they were young cows, but they were all bigger than she!  


So NOW the men jump in action and drive the big truck and livestock trailer in and start herding the cows down the “chute”  (?) and into the trailer.  All those poor little cows were crying for their mamas, and all night long...believe me when I tell you....ALL NIGHT LONG... those sad mamas mooooo’ed heartbroken wails for their babies!  The bad thing was that my cousin just lived over the rise, not even 1/4 mile away, so both mamas and babies could hear each other but couldn’t get to each other!    


You don’t even want to know what they were going to do with the baby cows!   I think that cured me of wanting to live on a least a livestock ranch!  hahaha!


So I turned to the chickens, who I knew my aunt and uncle were too softhearted to ever eat!!  Fresh eggs was the only harm ever to come to those chickens, who all had names!  


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“New Melones Lake” - Calaveras County, CA

 New Melones Lake is perhaps the size of Lake Cachuma, both man-made if I'm correct.  My aunt and uncle took me out on their pontoon boat.  It was a relaxing day in the sun and a picnic on the far side of the lake.  I particularly enjoyed the geology of the area and and the precipitation history told by the lake level markings along the shores.    


It made me wonder what the tell-tale signs I showed that revealed the rich and lean times of my life (not in terms of money, but love or a sense of well-being and purpose).  Probably my weight? Or perhaps how much I paint or write? Maybe both are linked at that.


This is one of my richer years, without a doubt.



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Mufassa’s Big Adventure-Calaveras County, CA

This entry also could be named, “Mufassa Risks Life and Limb to Protect His Master by Fighting Off an Eagle and Wrestling 2 Mountain Lions With His Bare Paws.” ... or condensed, “Mufassa Shows Mountain Lions Who Is really Lion King.”   At least, I’m sure that would be HIS version if he could talk!  He’s been pretty impossible to live with since!!  :-)


MY version goes like this:  My uncle, who teaches firearms instruction and safety, among other top secret responsibilities, decided that my parents, my sisters, my kung fu buddies and my dear friend firearms safety instructor were all correct.  If I’m going to travel alone, Kung Fu was good for self defense, but I really had to learn to shoot too.  Can’t believe I finally surrendered, but I was surrounded on all sides. 


All of this took place last night.


Knowing that my Lion King, Mufassa, hides under the bed when I turn on the vacuum cleaner, I shut him in my room so he wouldn’t get scared. (He’d say it was just that he was protecting his sensitive ears, of course, which I totally respect!)  My uncle was teaching me with a 22 caliber, since it was my first time since my parents taught me when I was 8 or 9 or so.  22’s are a pretty light load and pretty quiet, considering.  So I thought since I had protective noise silences on my ears. (Are they still called earphones if you don’t listen to music on them?!)  It was only when I was done at 5:30 pm, that I realized Mufassa had escaped.


After checking under all of the beds, sofas, house, in the barn, woodshed, well house, etc.  the three of us then spread out and covered the 20 acres of dried grass and berry brambles...four times.  Up until this point I’d avoided that field because I knew it was filled with little “wooly buggers,” tiny oval stickers that work themselves right up to sit against your skin.  My uncle had named them that when my cousins were tiny.  The name stuck.  They’re a country nightmare.  Last night I didn’t think twice about plowing through those fields in my nice (and newish) black knit pants.  All I could think is that the Moofball would be covered in them to the point where he couldn’t move, probably hovering scared under a thorny blackberry bramble.  Nightmare heaped upon nightmare...AND the night was darkening quickly.  We drove up and down every side road and beyond calling.  I kept looking at the sun sinking lower and lower until it went out of sight and feeling the panic rising, but I couldn’t let myself cry.  I had to find him and crying wouldn’t help!


Four hours.  It was 9:30 pm.  It was dark.  Really dark.  My little Moofers would be so scared I kept thinking.  My uncle and I had just finished making posters to hang up when I decided to make one more loop through the fields.  My aunt took the truck out one more time and met me at the front gate.  It was then that we noticed two sets of headlights out by the mailboxes.  In an area like that mailboxes for the ranches might be 2-3 blocks lengths away in a centralized location.  My aunt and I looked at each other, the same hope running through our minds but too afraid to speak and jinx it.  We headed that way.  My mild mannered aunt, who is like a sweet version of Harriet (of Ozzie and Harriet---I know, showing my age here), is NOT what you’d call a meek nor sedate driver.  She and my mother are of the same mind in this!  30 years ago, when they built the ranch house, everyone cleared off the dirt roads when one of them was driving!  


Anyway, she hauls a -- -- out of the drive, wheels spitting sandstone and quartz gravel, and squeals to a stop practically on the bumper of what turned out to be another old beat up ford pickup.  White of course!  (There’s some saying about men in white ford pickups...but I can’t remember...)  My eyes wide with more than the fear of my lost pup, I watch as she hops down the 3 feet to the ground and squares off with this giant mountain man in a plaid shirt (with the sleeves torn off at the shoulders of course), all tatted up, long hair in a pony tale and dirty baseball cap.  “Oh no!,” I’m thinking, “He’s going to pulverize her!”  What came out of his mouth was, “Ya don’t happen to be lookin’ for a little dog now, would ya?”  At our frantic nods, he grins wide and points to the front of his truck.  “He’s right in front of me.”  


I shot out of the truck, leaping the 3 feet as if I were on springs, and raced the to front of his truck.  No Mufassa.  I called again.  Nothing.  I called again, and a movement in the grass, just outside the beam of headlights, catches my eye.  I call again, and the grass on the shoulder of the road moves again.   Almost in slow motion, here comes Mufassa, walking slowly, so stiff legged and sad looking that even the man felt sorry for him (and I’m sure he wasn’t much of a frou frou dog appreciater none either!)  My aunt picked him up and handed him to me.  The dam broke and all the tears and fears I’d had just could not be contained!  


I spent the next two hours cutting out all of the little wooly buggers from his coat.  I filled up an entire serving bowl, he was so completely covered in them!  Little Moofers was so full of ticks and stickers that they couldn’t be brushed out, so I had to use a tweezers to twist off the big red ticks and small scissors and cut each and every one of those out, while my aunt praised his bravery and pampered him with little bitty chicken hot dog pieces.  She refused to go to bed until we had him comfortable again!   Poor little guy was shorn but comfy and tired by the time we made it to bed.


My aunt and uncle were INCREDIBLY loving to both me and Mufassa!


So what about the mountain lions, you ask?  Well, I didn’t know about those until AFTER we found him.  My aunt said that while she was out looking at 6:30 pm, she ran into the game warden up on the road where we found Mufassa.  Turns out there had been numerous sitings of not one but TWO mountain lions just two houses back from us.  She hadn’t wanted to tell me earlier, but that explained why she was acting even more frantic than I was feeling!  She said, “You were so worried about him being carried off by the eagles or red tailed hawk, or even the huge barn owl, that I just couldn’t tell you about the mountain lions!”


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“The Gift of Family” - Family Ranch in Calaveras County, CA

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate every person in my family.  I’ve spoken a lot in my earliest blogs about how influential and impressive my mother is.  Here in Calaveras County, my Aunt and Uncle are precious to me.  They’ve often offered me their home as a haven and home base when I’m all-fired bent on exploring the countryside.  My aunt sets up their downstairs guestroom like the finest luxury hotel, with royalty free stocked mini-fridge, coffee maker, little sample toiletries in case I forgot something, TV, books, etc.  Not only that, I have a big picture window view of the garden and ranch beyond.  It’s just wonderful!!  Their ranch is like a garden of eden in the gold country.  My aunt reminds me of my sisters, who are twins.  One is always moving, working on her place, working with her horses, cooking, working, creating and bringing smiles to everyone around her.  The other is tiny (under 5 feet) and fiesty and fun!  My aunt is both.  


It’s one of the things I love about families---seeing how certain personality traits, passions and interests ripple out through the generations.  I too have a little of both my aunt and my uncle.  Industrious, creative, a green thumb and animal lover like my aunt, and soft and sensitive while being firmly realistic and judicious like my uncle.  I went into teaching as a result of my oldest aunt, and I love traveling, photography and writing like my youngest uncle.  We’re all a little opinionated though.  You either love or hate that about the Aikens Clan.  That, and resourcefulness, physical and mental strength, and perseverance.  In researching my family history back to the American Revolution and on to Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, and Austria, these traits have been a constant thread.  Although I know I make my own path, my own choices, it’s wonderful knowing that certain roots run deep and those of an oak tree.


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Calaveras County, CA

Following the yellow line into Calaveras County I smiled to see the countryside once again change to the grand old oaks on a carpet of dried yellow grass!  Heading toward Mountain Ranch, I passed ranches and farms, vineyards and small wooden and stone towns. Many of the little towns here were originally old mining camps from the gold rush days, with names like Mountain Ranch, Sheep Ranch, Angel’s Camp, Murphy, Arnold, Railroad Flat and Sutter Creek.  This is the famous GOLD RUSH Country of California of the mid-late 1800’s, only a short time ago, relatively speaking, when you consider the millennium history of other countries. 


Here are some pictures of the old mining town of Sheep’s Ranch.   Actually, these three buildings were half the town!  Seriously!  (And two of those buildings weren’t being used!) The ones above are the general store and gas station, probably the post office and barber too!  18 cents/gallon!  That part must be relatively modern considering it was 29 cents/gallon when I was a kid!   I marveled at the fact that the antique signs and other gadgets hadn’t been looted!  It made me happy to see that!   The photo below is of an old barn and to the left, the Jail.  I’d hate to have broken the law in that town!  The jail was like a small brick box with no windows and no light!


Thirty years ago my parents lived there for 6 months and helped my aunt and uncle build a log home, which is now a small ranch up in the area.  Both families lived in tents on the 20 acres and ate off campfires, bathed in barrels, etc.   My youngest sister was still at home at the time and would write me the most entertaining letters about life “In the camps”. Coincidentally (although I don’t believe in coincidences) one of my dear friends also has a home a mere 10 minute windy mountain road away--That’s practically a next door neighbor in a ranching area.  Her family has owned 100’s of acres there for many generations, her original home built in 1924.  She retired six years ago from being a Principal down in Santa Barbara and returned to her land.  Visiting Mountain Ranch, I get to see both her and my family!


I love knowing the history of a place, especially when it comes through the people who’ve lived there for generations!  They bring heart and soul to the tales.  I think we all gravitate to STORY.  My story is but a slice in my family’s story, which is but a smaller slice of an area’s story......and so on, to country, world, universe, ... time ...    We’re ALL connected, all of mankind, all creatures, all living and non-living in all dimensions.  It’s both utterly inspiring and humbling with that perspective.


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“Driving up the Gold Coast” - Hwy 101 through Gaviota Pass near Lompoc, CA


Heading off for my next adventure...this time up to Northern California to the Gold Country.  The landscape here is every bit as beautiful in an entirely different way.  These lovely rolling hills of yellowed grass highlight stately old oak trees.  These, honestly, are some of my most favorite trees.  They grow from the tiniest seed and send out strong roots that stabilize the tree through countless storms, drought, fire.  They have a sturdy elegance to which I feel akin.  Each one has it’s own character and personality--as if one could read every emotion that crosses their faces!  In the late afternoon I just love their long shadows cast gently over the grass, like wide nets cast out, not to capture, but rather to protect the wildlife from the elements.  I suppose that if I were to pick one tree to describe me, it would be the oak. 



I recently learned that it takes an oak 70-80 years and 20 inches in diameter before it has viable seeds.  No wonder its saplings become so firmly rooted and are among the longest living trees!  Mankind could learn a thing or two from the oaks!  No wonder folklore associates wisdom with the oak.


Folklore also says, “Sitting with an Oak tree will soothe the nervous system and help you solve some knotty problems. It will bring deep calm and the will to survive... People needing Oak are usually strong and determined people, hard workers who will not complain and who will work relentlessly without a holiday. Sometimes this can be seen in mothers, who look after the family without a break and never admit to being overworked or under stress. Their enormous contribution is not always recognized or recompensed. This is partly the oak-type fault, as they feel an inner reluctance to appear weak in the eyes of others, and are worried about becoming dependent, and so do anything rather than ask others for help. Taking the Bach flower remedy will soften this attitude and bring new vitality, easing tension and bringing a more easy-going element to life.”


Read more:


Alas, if this is true, it’s understandable why I’ve always gravitated to the oak, for this describes a strong side of me!




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The Narrows slot canyon, ZION National Park, Utah

Finishing a vacation is always such a sad & sweet experience.  (I never think bittersweet is exactly the correct description for I don’t think I’ve ever felt bitter) I don’t want it to end, and I also can’t wait to see my dog, sleep in my own bed and see my closest friends, well, that is before I set out again the next day for Calaveras County!  


So what are my stand-out reflections?  Besides the obvious awe and wonder at the humbling yet inspiring beauty of nature, I think what I discovered was that I like the real me as I naturally am......strong, independent, adventurous, brave, creative, spiritual,  moderately athletic, open...  I feel comfortable and happy in my own skin.  I pushed myself to do things challenging but didn’t beat myself up for not being perfect.  My motto was I didn’t have to be the fastest one there, just challenge myself if I wanted and enjoy the journey getting there.  I overcame some fears, proved to myself that I am growing healthier, stronger and more fit, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I learned to let go of perceptions and insecurities holding me back.  I don’t need anyone in my life to make me whole, although it would be nice to have someone to share life’s experiences and learnings.  Even there, that may simply mean with my closest and very few dear friends.  Be happy with what I have right now.


View from 5 Freeway


Driving home I again saw these power lines, and I was struck by their soldier-like stance as they march across the hills.  My first thought was that now that this part of my vacation has ended, I’ll need to fortify myself to face off the beginning of a new school year in a new job, new school, new staff, new grade, etc....that I musn’t let down my guard.  Then I suddenly thought, “NO!  I will not approach it this way but rather, as I am now, happy, open, accepting and hopefully with a humble confidence.  I’ll go in as a learner  ready to grow and give.  I will not square my shoulders, ready for battle, but keep my heart soft and my smile ready for each child and parent that walks through my door.


Yes, my friend told me that traveling this summer would be crucial for me personally, and now I understand why.


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