Photo by Audrey Pavia
The beautiful weather on Saturday made it a perfect day to hike near the beach.
I opted to start at a little park at the top of a hill overlooking Laguna Beach, Calif., a resort city about 40 miles from where I live. The park has picnic tables and play yards, and a trail head that leads downhill into a regional wilderness park.
As I hiked through the canyons below the park, I thought I heard the bleating of a ruminant. Here in this resort area, where homes are closely packed together because of the high price of real estate, it seemed impossible that I would hear livestock. I figured I was imagining it — or so I thought.
After hiking for an hour, I turned around and went back to the trailhead and sat down at one of the picnic tables. The view was stunning. The hills below were dotted with unique houses, and just beyond them, the blue Pacific shimmered in the sun.
And then I heard it again — bleating. This time I knew I wasn’t imagining it. I stood up and looked down the hill below me. Hundreds of Alpine goats were grazing on the chaparral along the slope.
It was then that I remembered the Goat Vegetation Management Project, a fire-abatement program started in Laguna Beach in the early 1990s. Prompted by a wildfire that swept through the hilly community and destroyed 441 homes, the Goat Vegetation Management Project puts hundreds of Alpine goats to work, keeping the hillsides clear of dry brush.
I strained to see the goats through the cacti. I even climbed down the hill to get a better look at them. Then, the goat herder showed up and started pushing the goats up to the top of the hill, near the trailhead. He did this by moving the portable fencing that contained the goats, pushing them in the direction he wanted them to go.
In a matter of minutes, the Alpine goats were within a few feet of me, noisily chomping on the dried brush that grew everywhere. Scattered between cacti and sagebrush, they butted each other, jumped over bushes and called to each other, all the while munching away on dead plants.
I spent a good hour watching the goats eat and taking in the stunning view behind them as the sun dipped lower in the sky and closer to the ocean. The steady crunch, crunch, crunch of their jaws was soothing; it made me want to lie down in the dirt and go to sleep.
When I went out hiking that morning, I had no idea I’d be treated to such a wonderful sight. It made a beautiful day that much better.