With an hour to myself before work today, I yielded to the pull of the fresh, cool air and sunshine and headed outside to taste Spring. Long hours of working inside and a bonafide rainy winter here in Marin County have limited my usual outdoor activities of late. So I laced up my running shoes and headed up the shady ascent of the Chapman Avenue neighborhood, that winds it’s way up and over from Corte Madera to Mill Valley, along the way passing shingled bungalows, mossy and cracked walk ways and white picket fences.

The lush green, springtime hills of home here in Marin County struck an especially sweet contrast after a totally absorbing, recent family road trip to the high desert of Joshua Tree (more on that soon). And things ARE fantastically, technicolor green. Greener than they have been in 10 years, due to an abundant, seemingly endless supply of storm systems this winter.

On my jog I marveled at the gigantic clumps of Pride of Madeira Echiums (Echium Fastuosum, one of my favorites), soaring off the hillside. This is a Marin County staple but none the less fantastic to behold when it is blooming in all it’s glory and stature. It has an architectural presence and often is abuzz with bees.


A hillside in Corte Madera, Ca. Photo by Johanna La Fleur

As I continued up the windy network of single lane roads and walkways, I made a wonderful discovery: a discreet set of old stone steps ascending the hillside between properties. These hidden-to-all-but-locals stairways that connect quiet lanes are some of my favorite things about living in Southern Marin. The staircases I’ve used over the years I’ve found in exactly this way – in the course of a walk or jog in a new neighborhood.


The Tainter Steps, built 1906, Corte Madera Ca. Photo by Johanna La Fleur

These are the Tainter Steps, I read on a brass plaque, a two-tier run of stone steps (each step with it’s own design imprint, I might add) abutted by historic bungalows and fences draped in fragrant jasmine vines. Shaded and welcoming, these steps begin on Chapman Avenue just after the split from Stetson Avenue. I shared them with a man I estimated to be my dad’s age, hiking up determinedly, with a technique that told me this was his morning routine, many years in the making.


Stone work on the Tainter Steps, Marin County, CA. Photo by Johanna La Fleur


Along my walk I also saw other familiar faces not seen in such colorful or vibrant force for several seasons. California poppies in chaotic clumps overhung walls and beds…


California Poppies, Corte Madera, CA. Photo by Johanna La Fleur

And then a pungent, unmistakably oniony scent announced a whole meadow of Onion Weed (Allium Triquetrum), a riot of bright green stalks and tender shoots with little white blossoms. These are edible and delicious, and I’ve cooked with them several times, cutting them into ribbons and combining them with peas or fava beans for a spring green pasta.  (The blog Wild Picnic has a nice series of instructions for culinary uses here.)

Living in Marin County I’ve come to welcome spring in a different way than I did when I was a kid growing up in Chicago. Here it’s a cool green moment before the dry weather returns and the hills change again into golden, browns and ambers.

Gratitude today for an energizing walk, a staircase discovery and a little Marin springtime magic.

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