Ball Points

The sign says, ‘Ball Point Trail’.

“Who names a hiking trail after a pen?” I wonder as we pull into the gravel parking lot.

I imagine some historic ball point pen inventor or maybe a writer. I consider a famous historical, nature-loving philosopher with deep, deep thoughts regarding  pens.


But, on second glance, the sign reads, ‘Bull Point Trail’, not as interesting as a trail named after writing utensils.

I unfold myself, climb out of the car and join my friend. Anita is already out in the gravel lot preparing to hike this Bull Point (not Ball Point) Trail. We first met in Elementary school. My family had moved to her town in the middle of the school year. Always a good time.

Anita was instructed to walk with me to school on my first day.  It went well.  I yelled, tried to hit her with my umbrella, chased her to school, and then cried when I found we weren’t in the same class. Fifth grade is complicated.

Point Reyes is a beautifully remote speartip of land pointing north off the coast of California into the Pacific Ocean. Bull Point Trail meanders through the rolling windswept hills of yellow grasses, occasional low green shrubs, and small bright pockets of wildflowers. It is a relatively short and flat trail. Anita chose it to accommodate my aging and painful knees.  She also lets me use her hiking sticks.

Hiking sticks are possibly the best invention ever. Picture ski poles but so much cooler. Hers have fancy, fancy shock absorbers. She demonstrates the shocks by throwing herself against the handles so I can see the compression. I may have asked her to repeat this a few times. ‘Cause, cool; and, you know, funny.

Today, the warm sunshine balances just on the edge of a cold breeze off the water. My face feels chilled while sweat begins trickling under my backpack. This is typical weather here on Point Reyes, Anita assures me. She leads the way. The cold wind helps me picture myself cross-country skiing. These poles elevate my gimpy and aching knees to a sport.

We catch up with a couple who are decked out with some very serious binoculars and stop to exchange pleasantries. They are both seriously intense flower enthusiasts. They helpfully point out and name, in Latin, three different, tiny blossoms along the trail. They explain they are here, today, to hunt primroses.

They carefully instruct us in the identification of the elusive primrose. It’s the right season, but they haven’t seen any yet this year.  Today could be the big day. The two continue to argue gently about the identification of one particular yellow flower. We wave ourselves off peering down among the grasses along the trail for the primrose.


It takes about 10 steps until we forget the names of the three flowers they just identified for us. And 11 steps to forget the detailed description of the seasonal primrose.

Neither one of us has packed our Wildflowers of California: A Month By Month Guide . Any flower we see might be a candidate. We decide to photograph all the tiny flowers and look them up later. Clearly, neither of us is qualified for this kind of activity.

We reach the top of a small hill and discover that this rolling grassland is home to a small herd of black cows and a few calves. They dot the yellow, grassy hills and chew mildly. The cattle watch us silently, heads turning, as we move past. Their eyes follow us, ears flicking. It’s a little creepy. Thought, I don’t say so. I’m a cross-country skier, after all. I have a reputation to uphold.


We spot a clump of mystery blossoms and Anita kneels for a clear photo. When we both look up from the bright yellow flowers, three dark cows have ghosted close. They loom and chew, staring.

They are so close, I can see the small whiskers on their steadily moving chins. Anita and I stand slowly and back onto the trail. In silent agreement, we walk backward a few steps eyeing the cattle before turning and continuing on our path. I try to remember, absurdly, if they are ungulates or bovidae.


It is important to understand that the trail has taken us right into the middle of this cattle ranch. There are no walls, no fences, not even bits of string to separate us from these massive, massive ungulates (or bovidae). Either way, cows are really, really big. This place is remote and silent and beautiful and windswept and walking through these silent, staring animals is creepy.

We walk steadily, talking quietly. I don’t know about Anita, but I’m trying to appear not a threat but at the same time too dangerous to pounce on. Occasionally, we pause to kneel and photograph flowers. The primrose, like the truth, is out there. Small groups of giant cattle continue to watch our investigation with concerned interest.


After some time of wind and of silence we make it to the water. The beach is free of cattle and we  enjoy the sparkle of sun on the waters of Drakes Estero. We have packed a lunch but forgot to bring any utensils. Anita was inspired by ‘Ball Point Trail’, so we combed through the car for stray pens before setting out. I was skeptical but they make pretty good chop sticks. Ball Point Trail.

Some people need to fill space with words. Others are comfortable with silence and eating with ball point pens. We two have been friends for long enough that we don’t need words. We finish, pack up, and head back along the trail.

At the first small rise, we realize that one of the cows has an oddly shaped neck, sort of hump-like. She’s a good bit larger than the other cattle, too. I remember a favorite Bugs Bunny Cartoon. Bugs, having taken a wrong turn at Alequerque, is dressed as a matador. He smacks a cow and orders her to, “Stop steamin’ up my tail.” Not a cow, my brain stutters. A bull. It’s a bull. Oh. Crap.

This trail is not called, ‘Ball Point Trail’. There are no fences, nothing.

He is looking our way with some mild interest. We pause and briefly discuss our chances of survival. He flicks an ear. We back up along the trail with casual speed.  The black bull’s ears and eyes are fixed on us as the silence looms. We exit the trail at right angles and head for the steep rise. We may be able to rejoin the trail on the other side of the hill. If not, we’ll still have a hill between us and the massive, massive bull.

I creak along with some speed, up the hill. Adrenaline lubricates my knees and I feel my halting steps lengthen. The wind has picked up,  there is sudden sound and movement in the grasses all around. I listen for thundering hooves and am suddenly, intensely aware that Anita is still behind me. She could hustle ahead, but follows behind at my painfully deliberate pace. I wonder at enduring friendship. I wonder how fast a bull can run up a hill. I wonder if I’ll hear it coming.

Nearing the top of the hill, my right knee flares into intense heat and pain. I both hear and feel a snap and there is no time to stop. Death is surely coming our way.

I distract my self with the idea of boar spears and wonder if these hiking poles are sharp enough to hold off an attack. There is that high tech cushioning shock-absorber, after all. I occupy my thoughts with what the weak spot on a charging bull might be and deliberately refrain from thinking about my own weak spots.

I wonder what my last words will be and focus on taking each next step. Adrenaline is my favorite hormone. It turns out.

Anita offers and then insists on carrying both backpacks. She dons them one on the front and one on her back, looking like the parent of twins. It’s adorable. I am both grateful for her strength and annoyed at myself. She suggests that the weight of both packs is like a thunder shirt for dogs, soothing. I don’t believe her but I’m a little too out of breath. I’m cool with letting her protect my terrified dignity.

Anita suggests that this is a public trail and surely there is no danger. Surely, they wouldn’t release murderous, rampage-y animals on a public trail. I agree with her logic and yet we continue through the grass at a good speed.


We rejoin the trail, my furtive glances behind show no sudden dust clouds and no rapidly approaching cattle or locomotives of any kind. The tiny corner of my brain that isn’t currently preoccupied with giant murderous cattle, realizes that I feel hardly any pain in my knees.

I’m striding for the first time in months, both knees moving without the tight hot knots I’ve grown used to. I’m hustling along with long steady strides. My muscles are weak with disuse, but I can feel them working in a way they haven’t for almost a year. I swing the hiking poles with more vigor than is entirely necessary.

Anita has begun taking to the small gangs of cattle as we stride by.

“Aren’t you a great big cow, yes you are a great big cow. You’re a nice cow aren’t you,” The cattle don’t seem convinced, but they loom and let us pass.

We surge on through waving grasses, tiny flowers, and more small hoards of huge, loom-y cattle. And, now another cow appears over a rise with that distinctive Bugs Bunny Cartoon Bull-like silhouette. This guy is lounging in the grass. One long yellow blade of grass sticks out of his mouth; he blinks slowly as we approach.

“That’s a big bull, Susan.”

“Shut up, Anita.”

We keep moving steadily. The far side of the trail, opposite the huge beast rises too steeply to navigate. The only way forward is the trail about 10 feet from the bull. We move silently and steadily past him. I glance quickly back. He has heaved himself to his feet, ears flicking.


I lengthen my stride again and feel the unacustomed pull and burn of long-unused muscles. Looking far ahead we can see the small square of the Trail Sign. The sign. This trail is called, ‘Bull Point Trail.’ Oh.

We top the last hill near the gravel parking lot. The last gang of cattle is lurking out of sight. We’ve slowed our scurry to more of a hustle. My gimpy knee stills swings easily. That curious sharp pain and the loud snap during our scurry up the first hill did something. I feel a sort of cautious relief and sudden lump in my throat. It’s either relief from pain or joy at not being slaughtered. It’s too early to tell.

We pack up and prepare to leave. I exchange the hiking poles for my cane. Pause for a moment and return the cane to the back seat. I don’t need it right now.

Anita and I, our friendship has aged well, even if my knees haven’t. Today, a walk in windy quiet, a long friendship, and terror has fixed something inside.  Friendship should always help fix us a bit, inside. Also, we weren’t eaten by cattle. So, there’s that, too.


I still don’t know if we found the primrose.


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