Rain Sorcery: A Wyrd Hike with Newts

Hiking in the rain to the waterfalls in Big Basin State Park, accompanied by hundreds of California Newts, and the ghost of Shakespeare’s MacBeth.

Goat Trails

Story and photos by Ryan Masters

Nov. 26, 2014—The eyes of a California Newt are black slits set into saffron orbs. Gaze into them and you will know why the trio of weird sisters in Macbeth treasured them for their cauldron. They are gnomish and implacable. They hold secrets only found beneath glistening fern fronds and the oozing crowns of fungi. And if you are lucky enough to encounter hundreds at a time during a rainstorm, you will know their newt sorcery.

On a witchy, late November morning, I set out in a steady rainstorm from Waddell Beach. My plan was to hike to the waterfalls—Berry Creek, Silver and Golden—in Big Basin Redwoods State Park and witness the season’s first heavy rain roar through the trio of cataracts. At roughly 13 miles roundtrip, it’s a healthy trudge in bad weather, so I left early, hoping the rain would taper off by midday.

As in the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, the weather was murky at the outset of my hike. In fact, the marshes surrounding Rancho del Oso, where Waddell Creek drains to the sea, could easily double for the Scottish heath where Macbeth and Banquo stumble upon the weird sisters. A hard rain fell and banks of fog hovered in the valley like wispy ghosts of erupted Zeppelins. Old oaks with beards of Spanish moss grasped at the mist with gnarled arms. Motionless black-tailed does watched me pass along the trail with wide, cautious eyes, their sleek bodies poised to bolt deep into the woods like Diana’s nymphs.

Read about the California Newt

To quote the weird sisters, “Fair is foul and foul is fair” on rainy days in Big Basin. Although the weather obscures the sweeping vistas of skyline and sea, by default it draws an odd, more intimate beauty into sharp focus. You become intensely aware of the silence, the dripping rain, the microcosm of the path.

This morning, California Buckeye littered the trail, their velvety pods peeled back to reveal shiny, chestnut-colored seeds the size of racquetballs. The land’s original alchemists, the Ohlone, ground up these orbs for use in a particularly effective spell—to stun fish in streams with poisonous tannins. Mushrooms erupted from the rich mulch of decaying leaves, their globular domes sticky with the essence of fragrant California Bay, arching Red Alder and Monterey Pine. Covered in a fine shroud of mucus, a banana slug slurped across a redwood’s talon roots. The fluorescent hermaphrodite waved its upper eyestalks like wands as it crawled, sensing light and movement—while its lower eyestalks sniffed the dank ground for pleasing chemicals.

As the trail fell in step alongside Waddell Creek’s mud-choked waters, I noticed movement on the wet carpet of maple leaves. At first they blended seamlessly with the autumnal colors. Then one of the moist creatures curled away from the toe of my boot, displaying a flash of its bright-orange underbelly. Suddenly I saw them everywhere. California Newts. They scurried with the speed and intensity of melting wax and flopped out of harm’s way. Some stood their ground and stared me down with cloven eyes. Others bathed in the rivulets of rainwater running down the trail, oblivious to my approach. My progress slowed considerably as I carefully stepped around them.

The California Newt has a scientific name that sounds like an incantation: Taricha torosa torosa. They are spellbinding little beasts—and surprisingly deadly. The glands in their slimy skin secrete the potent neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, which is also found in pufferfish and harlequin frogs. Hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide, it’s strong enough to kill most vertebrates, including humans—but only if ingested. So, as a general rule, try to restrain from eating one. I came across a newt glarping down a fat, gray worm. Kneeling on the trail, I watched with grim fascination as it consumed its writhing prey. Due to its toxicity, the California Newt has few natural predators. This one appeared to be daring me to interfere with his wormy meal. Unsettled by the spectacle, I continued on my way.

* * *

I did not see another soul on the trail for the entire hike. Hiking in solitude through the rain, you are beholden to the voice in your head. Hiking in solitude through a mass of squirming newts, you are beholden to the same word over and over as you spot them. “Newt…newt…newt…” You must sidestep, step over and dance around them. “Newt…newt…newt.” For miles, you must concentrate on placing your boot in a spot not occupied by a newt. “No newt…no newt…no newt.” Eventually your brain begins to see newts where no newts exist. “Newt…newt…newt…” You realize you will probably be dreaming about newts for the next month. “Newt…newt…newt...” When you step off the deserted trail to urinate, you half-expect to find a newt in your trousers. “Newt?” As you bushwhack into the undergrowth to inspect spectacular eruptions of mushrooms, newts scatter in all directions like flat-footed basilisks. “Newt…newt…newt…” Before long, the word began to lose meaning and there is only newt…newt…newt.

Only when I branched off Waddell Creek at the head of the Sunset Trail, which tracks Berry Creek’s route down from the waterfalls, did the newt spell finally lift. It was a relief. After hours of disquieting newt silence, the sound of Berry Creek Falls was like a song. The days of heavy rain had done their magic and water coursed off the cliff in a shimmering 65-foot curtain. It was a joy to sit on the viewing deck by myself and take in the rain, the falls, the moisture soaking into the forest around me—free from the baleful gaze of any newts. It has been a long drought. I sensed the vegetation soaking up all the water and bulging with renewed life.

The San Francisco Renaissance poet William Everson spent much of his life in Big Creek Canyon, a ridge or two over from where I stood. In his brilliant book Masks of Drought, he meditates on the effects of the 1976-1977 drought and the force of God that is the first big storm of the season. In his poem “Runoff,” Everson conjures the female spirit of these menstrual rains: “Leaves like dead cells/Long held back in the frigid womb/Begin now to flow—under the rain/A deep cleansing, this rite of renewal.”

Everson spent two decades as a Dominican Friar, answered to the name Brother Antoninus and established himself as a literary and countercultural hero. In 1969 the man had a sexual awakening, cast off his robes in a public performance, married a much younger woman and began incorporating what he learned into his work. These lines, which describe the salmon waiting on the rains to gush out of the Santa Cruz Mountains and into the Pacific Ocean, are a wonderful example:

Beyond the slant sandbar blocking the rivermouth,
The great grey salmon skulked in the trough, dreaming the long
Genetic dream, plasmatic slumber of the unfulfilled,
Awaiting the moment of the forth-showing,
The river-tongue in the sea’s vulva,
The strength in the slot.

(from “Storm-Surge,” Masks of Drought)

It’s a gorgeous, sensual image and brings me back to the weird sisters. The word “weird” comes from the Old English term “wyrd,” meaning “fate.” Shakespeare was probably using the witches as stand-ins for the three Fates of classical mythology. Since the Fates control man’s destiny, calling them “weird” was the Bard’s way of indicating that Macbeth doesn’t have any control over his actions, and that his choices aren’t really his to make. I can relate.

When I was a young man, I believed I was the master of my own destiny. However, as I grew older I felt less like a powerful steelhead swimming upstream to some agreed-upon reward and more like one of those blind albino fish foundering about in a lightless cave. I’ve come to understand that, like Everson’s salmon, one must simply have patience—and faith. You cannot will the rains to end the drought.. They will simply come when they are meant to come. What once seemed like powerlessness to me, I now recognize as power.

Apparently it was my fate to continue up the trail another half-mile to Silver Falls and Golden Falls. The two cascades are so close together they can easily be mistaken for a single complex of waterfalls. After skirting the roaring base of Silver Falls, the trail winds its Tolkienian way up the misty face of the limestone cliff before teetering around at its edge. I paused here and enjoyed the dizzying view back down on the pool five stories below. Redwood trunks, long ago felled by some storm, lay crisscross at the base of the waterfall like some monumental game of pick-up sticks.

As I stood at the precipice, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Every drop of moisture in the forest seems to dazzle and sparkle in the bright, foreign light. Somewhere overhead, a blue jay ventured a jeer. It was an astounding moment. And then, on the earthen bank beside me, I sensed a squirm of movement beneath a fern.


Ryan Masters is a hiker, surfer, diver, journalist, poet and musician who grew up running wild in the Santa Cruz Mountains and has lived all over the country at one time or another. He lives in Santa Cruz and writes a weekly column, Goat Trails, for Hilltromper.

Read Ryan's Bosysurfing: The Ecstatic Motion.
Read about Ryan's trip to the Great White Redwood.

Read the amazing story of the California Newt, including lurid details about its mating habits, by following the link.


Field Notes

Plant your flag! Upload a photo, video, field note, nature poem or question for our army of (mostly) amateur naturalists.


I read that Post and got it fine and educational. grand theft auto 6


Extremely decent article, I appreciated perusing your post, exceptionally pleasant offer, I need to twit this to my adherents. Much appreciated!. lebanon escorts


I've perused some well done here. Certainly worth bookmarking for returning to. I amaze the amount of exertion you put to make such an extraordinary enlightening site. Bond cleaning Melbourne


Brilliant showed data. I thank you about that. Undoubtedly it will be extremely valuable for my future ventures. Might want to see some different posts on the same subject! 55 printed


Just try to specify ones substance can be as mind blowing. This clarity with your post is radiant and that i may believe you're a master for this issue. High caliber alongside your agree grant me to grab your present provide for keep changed by utilizing drawing nearer blog entry. You rock several alongside you ought to go on the pleasurable take care of business. chaturbate token tool verification key.txt xbox live codes


Affection to peruse it,Waiting For More new Update and I Already Read your Recent Post its Great Thanks. His Secret Obsession


It's proper time to make a few arrangements for the future and the time has come to be glad. I have perused this post and on the off chance that I might I be able to wish to propose you few intriguing things or guidance. Maybe you could compose next articles alluding to this article. I yearning to peruse considerably more things about it! Promotional Speaker


In the event that you set out to make me think today; mission achieved! I truly like you're composing style and how you express your thoughts. Much obliged to you. escorts beirut


I read that Post and got it fine and informative. Please share more like that... Language of Desire


I've perused some well done here. Certainly worth bookmarking for returning to. I astound the amount of exertion you put to make such an awesome educational site. How to get an ex back


Your blog provided us with valuable information to work with. Each & every tips of your post are awesome. Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging.. Love Commands


i read a lot of stuff and i found that the way of writing to clearifing that exactly want to say was very good so i am impressed and ilike to come again in future.. Love Commands Review


Your articles support me a lot in all mediums of subjects. Basement Waterproofing Parsippany NJ


Im no master, however I trust you simply made a phenomenal point. You unquestionably completely comprehend what youre talking about, and I can genuinely get behind that. His Secret Obsession


This is an extraordinary article much obliged for sharing this enlightening data. I will visit your website consistently for some most recent post. I will visit your web journal consistently for Some most recent post. beirut escort


Info is out of this world, I would love to read more. Body Language Moves


I can't envision concentrating sufficiently long to research; considerably less compose this sort of article. You've beaten yourself with this material. This is awesome substance. spinning classes melbourne


looking to shop for Twitter fanatics? Or perhaps followers onFacebook, Instagram or some other social community? instagram follower kaufen


This was a truly incredible challenge and ideally I can go to the following one. It was alot of fun and I truly lived it up.. website here


The size of business does not matter in this regard and it can be a manufacturing company or a home based company. Business SEO


The size of business does not matter in this regard and it can be a manufacturing company or a home based company. Business SEO


Brilliant data on your site, thank you for setting aside an ideal opportunity to impart to us. Astonishing understanding you have on this present, it's pleasant to discover a site that points of interest such a great amount of data about diverse specialists. His Secret Obsession


This article was composed by a genuine deduction essayist. I concur a hefty portion of the with the strong focuses made by the essayist. I'll be back. Lovetraction Lines


This might have something to do with how time-consuming it can obe to develop relationships over time with content marketing, but for mobile  app owners and marketers out there who’ve never recognized its effectiveness, consider this an intervention. app marketing for android


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”  apple login online sbi bobibanking “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” andhra bank login aipmt pan card status govt jobs neet 2017 admit card ignou admit card jee main result jee advanced application form “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” ipu gate result mpanchayat annamalai university hall ticket axis bank net banking bitsat admit card car insurance companies in india corporation net banking ctet appplication form cusat cat result “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” denaiconnect goacet admit card hdfccreditcardlogin icicibanklogin idbinetbanking passport login uco bank net banking ubi corporate login vnet banking up polytechnic engineering entrance exam “Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”  pnb internet banking epfo member portal sbhonline boi up scholarship student name list cbse result 2017 baou result dmrc recharge “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” 


While there's lots of talk of improving overall graduation rates and getting more minorities to earn degrees nationwide, few colleges have sounded the gender alarm. Some experts say it's time. johannesburg seo


I really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people. Find my connections - ethical hacking course in Hyderabad and ethical hacking course in delhi


In western astrology, tarot cards are more dominating tool but in Indian culture, we always go for Kundalis and horoscope voyance magie


Great post yet I was thinking about whether you could compose a litte more on this subject? I'd be extremely grateful on the off chance that you could expound a tad bit further. Welcome it! lifestyle pr firms


Much thanks to you for another extraordinary article. Where else would anyone be able to get that sort of data in such a flawless method for composing? I have a presentation one week from now, and I am on the search for such data. cleaning services new york


Amazing site, Distinguished input that I can handle. Im advancing and might apply to my present place of employment as a pet sitter, which is exceptionally pleasant, yet I have to extra grow. Respects. Top-Casinos


I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work andplease tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject? zockomat


I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work andplease tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject? zockomat


I got what you mean , much obliged for posting .Woh I am glad to discover this site through google. brownbook


I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article. I am trusting the same best work from you later on also.. How To Make Him Miss You


This is an awesome motivating article.I am practically satisfied with your great work.You put truly exceptionally supportive data. Keep it up. Continue blogging. Hoping to perusing your next post. Permeable Driveways


Stunning, cool post. I'd like to compose like this as well – requiring some serious energy and genuine diligent work to make an extraordinary article… yet I put things off a lot of and never appear to begin. Much appreciated however. cheapest business cards prints


Stunning, cool post. I'd like to compose like this as well – requiring some serious energy and genuine diligent work to make an extraordinary article… yet I put things off a lot of and never appear to begin. Much appreciated however. Cursos AdWords


decent post, stay aware of this fascinating work. It truly regards realize that this subject is being secured likewise on this site so cheers for setting aside time to talk about this! www.55 Discount


" – the first C2B Factory-Direct Custom Platform for Promotional Products, Corporate Gifts, Advertising Specialties, Branded Items and Promotional Gift Items in North America, founded by a BC entrepreneur, is challenging the 100-year traditional industry by its innovative online technology and a rebuilt flat supply chain. It removed all middle men and offers Free Shipping and Free Logo Service to help the corporate customers to save 50-60% on marketing budget on Business Promotion marketing.

C2BPromo believes ""Sharing"" is the essence of business model in future. It created a unique and exclusive investment & marketing platform called ( and welcome everyone who want to help business to grow to join and earn returns from his or her 6-level networks without investing money, purchase and membership fee.

C2BPromo carries a huge experience of 22 years in this industry. It has also worked with thousands of customers from one-man business to Fortune 500 like Google, Heineken, Microsoft, Pfizer, Merck, Citibank and much more. Check here to find out why C2BPromo is your best choice of the supplier of Promotional Products, Branded items and Promotional Gift Items: " | Corporate Gifts


Much obliged to you for the upgrade, exceptionally pleasant site.. Curso marketing digital