As usual, when my wife is traveling, I look for ways for Soph and I to bond in the wilderness. Recently I saw a photo of a child receiving a junior ranger badge from the Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center and asked Sophia if she was interested in getting one. She said yes, and she wanted to go fishing. I wasn’t convinced there were any fish in the area, but I was willing to go fishing.
We set out on a lazy Sunday and made our way up the 150. It was about lunch time when we arrived at the Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center, so we walked right over to the picnic tables and enjoyed our lunch. It was about 90F, but it was pleasant under the giant oaks and sycamores. The scent of the area was great and a nice breeze blew over us as we enjoyed each other’s company.
We picked up some trash around the area and watched the bird feeder at the entrance of the visitor center. Woodpeckers, doves, and a large Stellar’s Jay jockeyed for position as we quietly approached.
“Enjoying my bird feeder?” came a voice from the porch.
We looked up and saw a man obviously enjoying the beautiful day from his chair in front of the visitor center. We waved and he smiled back at us as we entered the front door. Soph went straight to the stuffed and mounted animals and identified all of them.
The man came in and introduced himself as Edwin, a volunteer at the center. We asked about the junior ranger program, but it wasn’t happening this day. Next Saturday, the rangers would be giving a talk and we could get a badge at that time. We then chatted about the fishing in the area. He chuckled and said there were no fish here, since there was no water.
“It’s been a pretty bad two years, there’s just not much water out there at all. Surely not enough for fish. You’ll find some water along the Wheeler Gorge Nature Trail if you want to fish, but you won’t catch anything,” he said. “Just take her out there and you’ll have a good time.”
He gave Sophia a bobber from his collection and some fossils she was curious about. We thanked him and took our car down the road, where we parked and got ready for a short hike. I instantly saw the poison oak all over the hillside. It was along the trail and above the creek. Luckily, it wasn’t immediately adjacent to the creek, so once we got to the bottom of the gorge, we were free from it.
We followed the creek until we found a large pool. I could tell it wasn’t large enough to hold any fish large enough to catch, but it was large enough for a bobber to float in it. I saw some fry darting under the water striders and hoped that, with a wet winter or two, fish will once again be seen in these waters.
Sophia cast into the water for a while, but I could tell she wanted to play in the water. She handed me her rod and removed her shoes. Before long she was wading into the pool and looking for the perfect rocks and sticks to build her faerie pond.
As I walked around, enjoying the creek, she started exploring downstream. I scrambled our gear together and followed her. I was enjoying watching her deftly navigate barefoot among the boulders and pools of the creek. She seemed at home here.
After a while, she was climbing a large boulder and jumping off onto a smaller one. It was a pretty far jump and she was having a blast. You’d think she’d want to jump into the water, but she wanted to jump onto a small boulder. I swear she landed just like Spiderman. I sat down on a boulder across the stream and once again just watched her move all over the creek as if she was born here.
I followed her further downstream and under the bridge. There, the North Fork of Matilija Creek met with Cannon Creek. As a result, the pools were larger and deeper. I fished for a bit, just for fun, as she scouted the area. I found a nice flat rock right next to where she found a small waterfall. She played in the mud while I nearly nodded off. The sounds of the creek surrounded me as I looked up at the small patch of blue sky between the shady alders. As the cool stone soothed my back beneath me, I could hear the joy in Sophia’s voice as she perfected her recipe.
We stayed there, like that, for about an hour. She played with water, rocks and mud, while I relaxed overlooking a large pool. We had the place to ourselves. Knowing we had to leave sometime, I helped rinse the mud off her shoulder. (Don’t ask me how it got there.) We headed back up the creek, collecting trash as we went. Not even the rampant graffiti under the bridge could spoil my mood.
In the car, on the way back home, she must have said about 20 times, “That was fun, dad.”
That’s all I could have really asked for.