I asked this at the beginning of our Big Basin hike this past Saturday.  To which the usual response is: If nobody is around to hear it, then does it still make a sound?  Surrounded by towering redwood trees, we chuckled at the cuteness of this cliche philosophical question (or at least I did).  But little did we know that later in the afternoon, while walking through the peaceful sun-dappled forest, we would actually hear the sound of a tree falling.

At first, we mistook the popping and crackling for somebody firing a BB gun; but when we caught a glimpse of falling branches, we knew without a doubt that we had just been graced with one of nature’s little secrets. This alone would have been the highlight of the trip, but the hike turned out to be even more spectacular than I expected.

Not that the forest isn’t amazing as it already is.  There was so much to enjoy.  I smelled the earthy fragrance of damp dirt, touched the chips of deep mahogany redwood bark, peered into the dark interior of enormous, hollowed tree trunks, and studied the growing mushrooms emerging from the sides of fallen giants.  Most amusing of all were these brightly colored banana slugs, hanging out under the shade in between the moss and lichen.  It’s hard to miss their moist and glistening bodies.  And there were literally tens and tens of these mucous-y, detritus-munching fellows all along our hike.  I was almost afraid I’d step on one by accident; although, Juan and I did secretly wondered if smushed slugs were yellow inside as well.

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Ferns made up most of the undergrowth.  Their leaves curled up in the drier parts, unfurling only in the shade or by the banks of the creek.  I like looking underneath the leaves for the hundreds of tiny brown spores that were no doubt releasing copious amounts of pollen, flying through the air and into my nose to stimulate the release of copious amounts of snot.

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Juan found a large black centipede with bright yellow spots.  Insects are cool in a grotesque “ew, I can’t believe it’s alive” kind of way.

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I don’t like spiders, but I love admiring their beautifully spun, symmetrical webs.  How do they know exactly how to spin their webs in precise, geometric shapes?

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I don’t have pictures of this, but while we were passing by a creek, we saw salamanders mating with each other under the rocky crevices.  A yellow one.  And a black one.  We saw their limbs and bodies intertwined with each other while they tumbled with the current.  That was the second highlight.

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You can’t tell from this picture, but the rocks underneath the running water are stained rusty orange.  If you pick up a pebble from the pool, your fingers catch some of that color.  Clay deposits?

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And finally, the third highlight of the hike was when we came across a baby snake on our path.  I guess none of us thought it was poisonous given its cute size, but we also did not look very closely.  Vicky picked it up while I snapped pictures of it.  Only then did she notice its tail rattling against her hand.

We realized that she had just picked up a rattlesnake.

Whaaat?  Mind blown.  The next ten minutes basically saw Juan and I stupidly chanting,”Vicky, you’re our hero.” Of course, it was exciting only because she came out of this alive and bite-free.  I don’t know what Juan and I would have done if she had gotten bit, especially since we were still at least four miles from the park headquarters.  But overall, I’m really glad we spent the day away from the city.  It’s not everyday you get to 1) hear a tree fall, 2) watch salamanders get it on, 3) and watch your friend, unknowingly, pick up a deadly snake.