The Trails of Mount Tamalpais

Winter Redwood is a feeling, complex by nature, from the rich loamy soil dappled in bay, oak, chaparral and fir, windswept by stream, ocean and fire. Any attempt to capture this is nearly impossible, except in the logbook of one’s own leather-bound memory. To bottle this moment is truly life’s work. Hall Newbegin is one soil loving, gulch exploring, crawl-on-wet-dirt-smelling-the-Earth’s-sweet-fragrance-kind-of-guy who’s anchored with this challenge.

When asked which trails epitomize Mount Tam dressed in its winter best, Hall replies “Lone Tree Canyon.” For those of you well versed with the mountain, you may ask yourself, “where is Lone Tree Canyon, and which trail leads there?” For most, trails mark the avenue on which our feet guide us along any adventure, but for Hall and his band of Wilderness Perfumers hell-bent on celebrating all that nature offers, footpaths are often obsolete to bushwhacking. What bushwhacking affords, most trails cannot: a window into a world just out of sight from the masses of weekend explorers, a portal that reveals ancient groves shrouded in silence, a land virtually untouched. It’s not the biggest trees or the deepest unexplored canyons that Hall is seeking, it’s the subtleties and elements of an intact ecosystem: the ancient bay laurel groves peppered with old growth Douglas fir, the lush understory of Yerba Buena, lilies of at least four varieties, and coyote mint. They are the pillars of a system unchanged since our planet’s last deep freeze. The Pleistocene, whose wintery grip gave way to sun, thaw and a bloom of floral communities in epic proportions. For a tree among Earth’s most long-lived, say a Coastal Redwood, the Pleistocene is recent history, a mere seven generations back.

How lucky we are to have this virgin, temperate rainforest to explore just over the back fence. These very forests are an extension of a vast arboreal sea that extends from Big Sur’s Salmon Creek northward to Southern Alaska, encompassing a forest among the most bio-diverse and productive on Earth. To have this is such a rare thing.

Unbeknownst to many, some of Mount Tam’s clear, corduroy streams are being robbed of their water; the mountain is being stripped by just a few, and in just a few isolated gullies and canyons. Marijuana growers are spoiling some of those virgin, pure pockets of temperate rainforest, spilling chemicals into the stream, stealing water, and chopping vast canopies of the understory all in the name of greed. With this harsh reality, we look to Edward Abbey, “the idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” This is exactly what Hall and his band of Wilderness Perfumers intend to do – defend every trail, gully, ridge and ravine. By spreading the word, telling the stories that need to be told, and reminding us how damn lucky we are to have this dirt and those forests. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community of stewards to protect a mountain.

As you plan your next Tamalpais escape, Hall suggests exploring the Steep Ravine trail. Hall describes this trail’s essence, mid winter, in full bloom. It’s a time when the mountain’s ravines are often shrouded in a blanket of cool air that lingers in our senses while the smell of fir, tan oak, bay and matsutake garnish the underlying Earth. “This fragrance takes me some place, it reminds me of where I’m rooted, and what I love. It’s that place, and those smells that take me. And I wanted to make a fragrance that embodies this sense of place.” (Hall Newbegin, March 2015.) Like Gary Snyder Said, “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”