Walking’s not only good for the body, it’s good for the soul, especially when you walk before sunrise. That’s according to Sebastopol resident Liza Weaver Brickey, who makes it her business to combine the three in seasonal public celebrations.
“At sunrise, we get to see and sense what nature offers. It’s different every day,” said Brickey, 61.
This former dance therapist and current Feldenkrais practitioner believes the body is designed to move and movement keeps the body healthy.
Brickey came to Sonoma County 23 years ago after the Oakland Hills fire consumed her home. A few years back, when she began walking her dogs before sunrise along a trail in the Laguna de Santa Rosa, she felt “a huge crystallization of magic.”
As the darkness of night gave way to dawn, she could see the meadows and oaks and the rising birds - egrets and owls and Canada geese - and she felt a largeness not only surrounding her, but also within her.
“I think walking opens our inner heart,” she said.
In December 2013, Brickey wondered if anyone else might like to join her on her morning walks, so she emailed friends and contacts. Four people said “yes.” That was the beginning of the Sunrise Walkers.
Each year during the vernal equinox, the summer solstice, the autumnal equinox, the winter solstice and epiphany, Sunrise Walkers walk the Laguna trail together for five consecutive days. The 45-minute walks begin before sunrise.
Folks from throughout the county meet at the Laguna de Santa Rosa trail head off Highway 12, near Sebastopol, and then walk to Kelly Pond and back. Sometimes there is a brief presentation at the pond, sometimes there is music.
Always the walk starts in darkness and ends in light.
“We take certain things for granted - light, air, clouds,” Brickey said. “But when you walk and feel the Earth beneath your feet, when you watch the sun rise, watch the blanket of darkness slip from the Earth, you realize what a speck you are in the universe. That’s both freeing and humbling.”
The 14-mile long Laguna stretches from Cotati to Forestville, draining a 254-square-mile watershed. In days gone by, its lakes, streams and marshes supported regional Indians with abundant fish, fowl and tule reeds for making homes and canoes.
Today, it becomes a massive flood plain during the rainy season, with salmon visible in the Laguna’s winter waters. In the spring, its vernal pools nourish fragile wildflowers. During drier summer months, its valley oak savannah provides habitat for wildlife such as gray fox and mink.
“People have walked throughout history on the equinox and solstice, so our walking during these times connects us symbolically with our ancestors,” Brickey said. “And walking helps you understand the Earth better. Walking touches us on all levels.
“Sunrise brings a brand new day, a day that has never been before and will never be again. It’s a special gift to share.”
Mark Farmer of Sebastopol, a semi-retired restaurant owner, has been a Sunrise Walker for about a year.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” he said. “Being there at the beginning of the day is a great time to see nature when everything is waking up.”
A five-day commitment is easy to keep, Farmer said, “and I like the seasonality of it. It’s a nice way to mark the seasons.”
In December, the Sunrise Walkers dealt with fog and flooded pathways during their early morning pilgrimage. On Dec. 20, a group of about 20 walked in silence as the darkness thinned out to thick gray and then to bright-light gray. Trees took shape out of the fog, like sentries along the trail. Birds rose in winged clouds and wheeled overhead.
When the walkers found water too deep to continue, Terri Hobart, an Episcopal priest from Danville, shared a meditation on finding light within darkness. The group, gathered about her in a circle, also shared thoughts and experiences on the light/darkness theme. A photographer talked about light’s differing wave lengths. An astronomer talked about the light of stars that only reveals itself after dark.
“It was a gorgeous morning,” Hobart said later. “And it was so interesting to watch how community formed as the group shared their experience of darkness and finding light. I felt there was a sacredness to the gathering.”
To mark the upcoming Vernal Equinox, the Sunrise Walkers will gather on March 16-20. For more information, visit sunrisewalkers.com.
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